Truthout

Error
  • JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 16290

Death Toll in Turkey Earthquake Rises as Rescuers Race to Find Trapped Survivors

Tuesday, 25 October 2011 05:40 By Sebnem Arsu, The New York Times News Service | Report
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print
  • Email

Istanbul - The death toll from a deadly earthquake in eastern Turkey over the weekend has risen to more than 360, the government said Tuesday. Rescue teams were working round the clock for a third day to uncover survivors from more than 2,260 collapsed buildings in and around the city of Van, near the Iranian border, while more than 1,300 injured were being treated in nearby hospitals, the prime minister’s disaster relief center in Ankara announced.

A number of successful rescues in the town of Ercis near Van, where the greatest destruction occurred on Sunday, inspired more than 3,000 aid workers to keep digging. Some dug with their bare hands, while others used heavy machinery to remove chunks of fallen concrete and relied on cellphone calls from the missing in the search for survivors.

Television images showed rescuers on Tuesday cradling a 2-week-old girl found alive in the rubble of a collapsed apartment building in Ercis; a 19-year-old in the town survived by using his cellphone to direct teams to the collapsed building where he had been trapped; and a man dug with his hands to free his fiancée from the rubble of a cafe.

Government officials have not said how many people had been rescued, but news media reports said at least 25 survivors had been pulled from the wreckage during the day on Monday. Local officials said that the death toll could rise. About 3,000 rescue workers and 12 specially trained dogs had been called out, Bulent Arinc, the deputy prime minister, said at a news conference that was broadcast nationally.

“This is one of the strongest earthquakes registered in Turkey in recent years,” Mr. Arinc said. “Our relief efforts include everything that would apply in an officially declared disaster region.”

At least 213 aftershocks have been reported in Turkey, which is crisscrossed by faults. The strongest was a magnitude 5.7 earthquake, the Turkish Seismic Institute said.

Video images broadcast on television showed heavy machinery lifting concrete blocks from multistory buildings that had collapsed like houses of cards on Kazim Karabekir Street in Ercis, about 30 miles north of Van.

At one point, the search team at one Ercis building called for silence as they strained to hear the calls of survivors.

About 9,000 tents and more than 25,000 blankets were shipped to the region, which is about 730 miles east of Ankara, the capital, and near the borders with Armenia and Iran. The government was also sending in food supplies. But relief efforts were plagued by chaos in places, and there were reports of fights at some of the distribution centers.

There were also stories of heroism and unlikely survival.

The 19-year-old in Ercis, Yalcin Akay, was rescued after he called the police on his cellphone while he was buried in the rubble of a six-story building, then helped lead his rescuers to his location, the Anatolian Agency reported.

NTV reported the story of Gul Karakoc, a teacher, and two friends who were found alive 17 hours after the initial earthquake under heaps of concrete that had been a cafe in Ercis. Ms. Karakoc’s fiancé, Onur Eryasar, a military officer rushed to the scene after the earthquake and dug for hours with his bare hands, the report said.

A 13-year-old boy, identified only as Yunus, was pulled Monday from the rubble of an Internet cafe in Ercis. A television broadcast of his rescue showed his eyes wide with fright and the hand of a dead person on his shoulder. News agencies later reported that he had died, unable to survive internal bleeding and several critical fractures.

The 14-day-old baby, rescued alive from a collapsed building in Ercis, was identified as Azra Karaduma. Rescue workers in orange jumpsuits cheered as they brought the nearly naked baby to safety. “Given the work conditions and hardships of rescue teams, the best prize is to bring people back to life,” Ercan Toprak, leader of the rescue team that saved the girl told NTV. “We feel the joy of connecting her back to life and hope her mother and grandmother will also be saved very shortly.”

Azra, her mother and grandmother had taken shelter behind a couch in their damaged apartment when the rescue team first heard their cries for help, and then drilled from behind the wall to carve out a hole large enough to pull out the baby, Mr. Toprak explained.

Thousands of people whose homes were destroyed or were considered unstable were spending the nights outside, with temperatures forecast to be as low as 28 degrees. Snow is expected midweek.

The government said it was allocating around $1.7 million to aid in the rescue and postponed residents’ tax collections for a year. The government announced plans to build 3,000 prefabricated houses and the construction of new, permanent public housing.

The Kurdish Administration in Northern Iraq said it was donating $1 million in financial assistance to the region. There was also video of rescue groups cutting through the twisted steel of a multistory building in Ercis to save Halil Ozdemir, a young man who was barely conscious when he was found.

More than 50 nations also offered aid, including Israel, whose relations with Turkey have been strained since the Turkish deaths last year in an Israeli commando raid on a flotilla that was trying to run the blockade of Gaza.

Mr. Arinc strongly denied initial reports that his government had refused the Israeli offer, saying that the two countries had always cooperated at times of natural disaster. Relations with Israel might not be as good as desired, he said, but “it would have been highly inappropriate and unpleasant to refuse the offer by the Israeli government.”

“Nobody should even think about such a thing,” he said.


Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus