Hurricane Michael: When search and rescue leads to no findings, no relief

Published October 13 2018

MEXICO BEACH ó Itís difficult to draw conclusions when Rit doesnít find anything.

The yellow lab, trained to find living people under rubble, was active Friday with his handler and team on what used to be a plot of homes half a block inland from the Gulf water in destroyed Mexico Beach.

The dog didnít find anyone. Nobody was relieved.

Firefighters from Miami got a tip Friday that an 80- to 85-year-old woman had tried to ride out the storm in a structure around there. The tipster said they smelled decaying body.

That led 26-year veteran Timothy Gleason and his team to some waterfront apartment buildings that were still standing, their smoke alarms blaring to residents who had long since gone. Once the firefighters cleared those, they moved to the rubble, where they unleashed Rit. Afterward they searched through the rubble even though the dog came up empty. Rit isnít trained to find cadavers.

The team sledged concrete slabs into pieces and tossed cinder blocks aside. They focused their "delayering" efforts near the cracked white toilet. People often try to ride out storms in bathrooms.

"Usually itís an interior room that they find themselves more confident in," Gleason said

After a couple minutes it appeared they wouldnít find anything. But itís impossible to guarantee they donít miss something. Moving on is a judgment call.

"We kind of go by intuition and feel," Gleason said. "Itís really hard to make that determination."