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Business trip becomes rescue effort

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Gail Perks had planned to fly to New York Wednesday for business, and she had hoped to stay in the Marriott Hotel on the ground floor of the World Trade Center.

Perks is still going to New York in the wake of terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center. But now she's going as part of 64-member Utah Task Force One, an elite urban rescue team that has been dispatched to find survivors amid the World Trade Center rubble.

"Once I saw the first tower collapse, I knew they would need our help," said Gail's husband, Dave Perks, also a member of the rescue team bound for New York.

Once the second one went down, "there was never any doubt" that urban rescue teams from all around the nation would be summoned, he said.

"This is something that makes Oklahoma City look like nothing at all," Dave Perks said.

Perks has the perspective to make that call. He was part of the Utah response team that looked for survivors amid the rubble of one nine-story federal building in Oklahoma City.

The World Trade Center disaster consists of two 110-story buildings and one 45-story building, all completely collapsed. And there is untold damage to neighboring buildings where victims may also be trapped.

"There will be mass confusion," he predicted. "It will be a really big mess . . . like nothing we have ever seen before."

Dave Perks is a veteran dog handler and manager for Rocky Mountain Rescue Dogs, one of the nation's best canine rescue units and a major component of Utah's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rescue team.

The Utah contingent is one of 12 FEMA teams being flown in from around the nation to join two teams already in New York City. The team was deployed about 4 p.m. Tuesday, taking a military transport from Hill Air Force Base to New York City. Jean Hooks, a veterinarian in Hurricane, Washington County, knows what the teams will face once they get there. Hooks and her dog Sky Raider were also in Oklahoma City as part of a FEMA rescue team, and she has never gotten over the experience.

"The trauma these people are going through, knowing the the terror and the sadness and the grief," she said, her voice breaking with emotion. "You never get over it."

Hooks, who moved to southern Utah and organized a search-and-rescue canine unit in Washington County, said the memories of Oklahoma City came rushing back when she saw the television coverage of the World Trade Center disaster. And she immediately thought of those who must now try to find survivors.

There will be the sheer chaos of trying to organize rescuers from many different jurisdictions, as well as the hundreds of volunteers, not all of whom are qualified to help. That will happen before the teams with search dogs can really start sifting the rubble in any systematic fashion.

"We refer to it as the golden day," she said. "They have 24 hours, and after that the chances of survival drop rapidly. They may have even less than that with the jet fuel involved."

Dave Perks knows the Utah team won't be getting to the New York disaster site until sometime near the end of the "golden day."

And he knows the experience will be horrific. But he is optimistic.

"I'm not giving up hope by any means," he said. "As long as the weather doesn't go cold, we'll find them if they are in there."

"But there's always hope."

E-mail: spang@desnews.com