South Sound volunteers head to Nepal for earthquake rescue mission

SEATAC, Wash. -- The U.S. is sending relief to Nepal following Saturday's deadly earthquake. More than 3,200 people are dead, including climbers caught on Mount Everest.

Four volunteers from the South Sound are joining the rescue effort. The team from Empact Northwest left on a flight just before 6:00 p.m. Sunday night. They are expected to arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal by Tuesday, where their mission is to find survivors

Goodbyes at the airport are rarely easy.

“It’s super tough, it’s super tough,” said Jake Gillanders. "My daughter was crying a little while ago. It’s always the hardest part of doing this."

It was an especially difficult one Sunday afternoon at Sea-Tac Airport, as Gillanders and his team with Empact Northwest head to Nepal, where a devastating earthquake has killed thousands already and aftershocks continue to threaten survivors.

“We’re told about 20 percent of the structures have collapsed, that there are a lot of individuals that are entrapped, so our primary mission is to do an advance search, locate those victims, tag them, rescue them if we can, if we can’t we’ll mark them, report them until a heavier team can come and help,” said Gillanders.

As a Poulsbo Firefighter, Gillanders puts his life on the line every day. He didn’t think twice about doing it for Nepal.

“You know I’ve been a firefighter for 15 years and to me this is just an extension of that mission, helping people no matter where they live,” said Gillanders.

Helping people is what brings husband and wife, David and Lora York of Puyallup, to the team. After all, the two met while helping after the Indian Ocean earthquake more than a decade ago.

“This is part of our story of who we are and how we met and this is just extending the rest of our story,” said Lora York.

Everyone on this team of four has responded to disaster before. For Sil Wong-Underwood, Nepal will be her sixth disaster in just five years, from Haiti in 2010 to the Oso landslide last year.

“We train for this,” said Wong-Underwood. “We work hard for this, and we are good at what we do.”

Wong-Underwood’s husband, Jeremy Underwood, is a Key Peninsula firefighter. It’s why he understands his wife’s need to go, but also why he believes this goodbye is only temporary.

“They go in knowing that safety is their priority,” said Underwood. “They want to come home, just as much as we want them to come home.”

All of these volunteers have full-time jobs. They’re using their personal vacation days as well as their own money to take this trip.

However, they are raising funds through Empact Northwest. If you’d like to help- click donate, click here.

If you’d like to set aside funds for a specific volunteer, add their name in the comments section once you donate.