Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro thanked the Israeli rescuers who have been searching for survivors in the collapse of a dam, saying their mission is over after almost a week.
The delegation, consisting of 130 military and search-and-rescue teams, landed in Brazil on Sunday and has been working to find survivors in the mining operation disaster in Brumadinho, a rural area of the Minas Gerais state. So far, 99 people have been confirmed dead and at least 250 missing.
“The brave Israeli troops, sent by the Prime Minister Netanyahu, today ended their mission in Brazil,” Bolsonaro tweeted in Portuguese.
“Thank you, on behalf of the Brazilian people, for your services.”
Maj. Tamir Hazan, an officer in the Ram Battalion of the IDF’s Search and Rescue Brigade, from Brazil, told The Jerusalem Post of their experience:
Not until their arrival on Monday did the Israelis begin to appreciate “the breadth of the tragedy, and what was expected of us.”
“It’s not a classic search and rescue operation, it’s not something we’ve trained for. We train for building collapses, and other things, but this kind of work – extracting people from underneath mud – we have yet to encounter.
“We had to figure out, how does the mud behave, could people have been dragged by it to different places, or were they immediately buried,” he said. “We located bodies that were still holding their phones up to their ears, which showed us how quickly it happened, how nobody had time to prepare.”
There were some obstacles that even the most dedicated and skilled personnel could not overcome:
“The work itself is hard – there are no tools that can tell you a body is there – in open space we can locate someone who’s breathing, or moving, or via body temperature,” he said. “But under the mud there’s nothing we can do – there are bodies buried one, two or three meters under the mud.”
Hazan dismissed media reports that the IDF had not been properly equipped for the task.
“There’s no equipment in the world that exists that we could have brought to work in his situation,” he said. “There is no way to locate a body under meters of mud.”
Instead, he said, they used two main techniques: recreating an aerial picture of the disaster zone, and deploying search-and-rescue dogs.
“With your eyes you can’t see anything, so we have to recreate where the restaurant was – so we open Google Maps, and we say, OK it was here, we should dig here,” he said.
The IDF team came with advanced equipment that can locate cellular signals, including sonar and drones to build up an aerial picture. As for the digging, Hazan praised the military’s engineering and excavation equipment capable of doing “in a minute what a team of 10 people can do in an hour.”