On everybody’s mind this week has been the massive series of earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria. GDACS reports following the two severe 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude shocks on Monday the 6th, that there have been over 1500 aftershocks recorded across the area.

The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) reports, as of 10 February at 5.30 UTC, that there have been more than 18,300 fatalities and over 74,200 injured people across several Provinces in Turkiye. AFAD also reports nearly 75,800 people evacuated to safer areas.

In Syria, UN OCHA and the Syrian Ministry of Health report as of 9 February, more than 3,250 fatalities and nearly 7,300 injured people across many Governorates and in non-government-controlled areas in Northwest Syria.

This means in excess of 20,000 fatalities in all, and the number is expected to rise still further.

Following Syria’s and the World Food Programme’s requests for assistance from the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM), so far six countries offered assistance, including tents, blankets and other shelter items.

After Türkiye’s request for assistance from the same UCPM, 26 countries offered 38 search and rescue teams, medical teams and thousands of shelter items, tents, and blankets.

In that Turkiye and Syria fall within IARU Region One, Greg Mossop has been busy interacting with the Emcom coordinators for many European countries, and these countries have been indicating that they are sending rescue missions, often with ham radio operators embedded within the teams to assist with their own communications, and those of the devastated areas.

Grant Southey, ZS6GS, National Director of HAMNET offered assistance from South African communicators, but the offer was turned down with thanks, unless the operators were within a rescue mission.

Of course, our internationally acclaimed “Gift of the Givers” has been there from the start, and Dr Sooliman has been issuing reports of assistance provided by South African medical teams. He notes that most if not all the hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, and there is basically nowhere to transport the injured to.

Bad weather, with lots of rain and snow have made search and rescue operations very difficult and, 6-7 days later, the likelihood that anybody will be rescued alive from the destroyed buildings is diminishing. And the aftershocks continue, each of them potentially another big one, or big enough to cause further collapse of damaged buildings, causing further injury.

All in all, it is a terrible situation, from which it will take years to recover.

Yesterday, in sweltering heat, HAMNET’s Western Cape Division provided communications support for the Gryphon 99er Cycle Tour, which takes place from Durbanville out north and east of the area each February. Hamnet has supported this race for the last 14 races, with one year’s absence due to the COVID pandemic in 2021.

HAMNET provided a volunteer force of 16 operators, providing roving duties, and keeping an eye on the riders. Several hams manned dangerous points along the route, where, for example, a narrow bridge that allowed one-way traffic on it was blocked off from the far end by a ham and a traffic officer, to allow riders to negotiate the bridge without worrying about oncoming vehicles. We had operators situated before and after such obstructions, warning the traffic officer beyond of the incoming riders, so he could stop the flow of cars.

It would seem there were about 3000 riders in all, who attempted either the long 100km route, or the shorter 51km ride. The long route left Durbanville in the direction of Wellington, but soon veered north and only turned back to Durbanville in the outskirts of Malmesbury. The shorter route went the same way, but turned west half the way to Malmesbury on the R304 to Philadelphia, before turning back into Durbanville using the same end-route as the long race.

We attempted APRS tracking of all important roving vehicles, as well as the ambulance teams, and back markers, using a temporary digipeater installed on the highest hill, 410 metres above sea level in the centre of the route, which worked very well, and will be removed later in the weekend.

All would have gone perfectly, had the clerk of the weather not intervened. At 3.30am, when I got up, it was 23 degrees outside, and the day turned out still, cloudless and sweltering. By 10 am it was 32 degrees in the shade at the JOC, and by 10h15, the medical staff stopped the back end of the long race from continuing because the levels of heat exhaustion would have been dangerous. All riders more than about 25 km from the finish, were blocked and taken off the course, and riders closer to home than that were assessed at a medical stop for signs of dehydration or near-collapse before being allowed to continue.

By 12 midday, the thermometer registered 36 in the shade at the finish, and all riders were swept off the field and brought to the end before the cut-off time. Luckily by the time all this happened, the front riders of both genders in both races had long since finished, so there were winners, finishers, and sadly, cyclists prevented from finishing.

With the wisdom of hindsight, organisers agreed that, in February, one needs to encourage riders to carry more fluids with them, and medical points and watering points to be able to supply far larger quantities of additional water. February is regarded as our hottest month of the year, though we have occasionally seen this race take place in the rain! Not this time.

Your writer ran the JOC, ably assisted by Carol, ZS1MOM, and I thank her, and the other 14 operators who sat in hot cars for the entire morning, reporting on conditions and calling for sweeps or ambulances to rescue the drop-outs and the injured. We believe there were lots of very hot and dry participants, and seven people were admitted to hospital, with injuries or states of dehydration. Luckily there were no reports of a serious nature.

The current organisers have been managing the race for about 5 years now, and the race runs like a well-oiled machine, with provision made for all kinds of individual problems, for injuries, for closure of the race prematurely, and even evacuation of staff and riders at the finish, in the event of a major disaster, such as smoke inhalation from fires, bomb threats, or terrorist activity. The organizers are to be congratulated for their attention to detail. As they say “If you plan for it, it won’t happen”, and “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.