Devastation inside the federal office building in Oklahoma City is beyond imagination, says a searcher who spent the past five days there.
Dave Perks and Tonto, members of Rocky Mountain Rescue Dogs, returned to Utah Monday, looking tired and a bit disheartened. They found plenty of bodies in the Murrah Federal Building, Perks said, but no survivors.Perks and Tonto were greeted at the Salt Lake Internationl Airport by his family, fellow RMRD members and Tonto's brother Wil-lie, another trained search dog. Several passers-by, learning Perks had been in Oklahoma City, also approached and thanked him for his work.
"You can't really prepare for something like that," Perks said. "The building is totally destroyed. Other searchers who've worked them said it's beyond anything an earthquake can do."
Perks and Tonto were among the first rescue dog teams on the scene, arriving around 7 p.m. Wednesday and going into the bombed building around 11 that night, some 14 hours after the explosion.
They first searched through the day-care center, where Perks said the destruction is almost unbelievable. "The victims aren't there any more. They're just gone," he said.
They had to come out some four hours later when Tonto sliced one of his footpads on broken glass.
"We fixed him up, glued the pad back together and took a short break, then went back in. He made it through the rest all right," Perks said. They worked nearly 20 hours their first day, he said.
Perks said Tonto got discouraged finding only bodies and no survivors.
"He was down a little after two or three days. You're working with nothing but the scent of death. There were no live finds to get his attitude back up, so I had to work with him. We'd take a break, play some Frisbee, do some basic obedience work, some routine things," Perks said.
"But I was happy with the way Tonto worked under those conditions. He had an 80 percent success rate. When he indicatedon a spot, we found 80 percent of the time that there was something there," Perks said.
There were more than a few heart-stopping moments working inside the building, Perks said, with falling rubble and creaking, groaning wreckage.
"I'm not going to take my hat off; you'd see all the gray hair I got in five days," he said.
Perks said it wasn't until he was on the plane home Monday that the enormity of the death and destruction hit him.
"I've had a couple of hours to sit down now and think about it. It's just awful. While we were there, we were too focused on what we were doing, our little part of it, to think much about the overall picture," Perks said. "I'll get through it, I'll move on. We'll continue to train for it, but I never want to do another one like this one again."
Support from the people in Oklahoma City is tremendous, Perks said. Tons of food - including dog food - has been donated, along with other items. Veterinarians volunteered to care for the rescue dogs, cleaning them up each time they came out for a break while their handlers rested.
"It's a bad situation inside there for the dogs," Perks said. "There's broken glass, all kinds of hazards like that, and all the concrete dust, which is very abrasive. It gets all over their fur, in their ears, and between the pads on their feet and has to be cleaned out. They did all that for us," he said.