Rescuers race to find Turkey quake survivors, 28 dead

by RAZIYE AKKOC / pic by AFP

Bayraklı, TURKEY – Rescuers raced against the clock Saturday to save people buried under rubble as hundreds spent a terrified night in tents after a powerful earthquake claimed 28 lives in Turkey and Greece.

The 7.0 magnitude quake killed 26 people and injured more than 800 in Turkey after striking on Friday afternoon near the west coast town of Seferihisar in Izmir province.

Also killing two teenagers on their way home from school in Greece, it caused a mini-tsunami on the Aegean island of Samos and a sea surge that turned streets into rushing rivers in one Turkish coastal town.

In Bayrakli, Turkish families and friends looked on in agony, exhaustion and hope as workers painstakingly went through the rubble of two completely flattened buildings.

Just five minutes across town, worried crowds watched as a black bag was taken away from another collapsed building in the early hours of Saturday. 

“Let me see who it is!” one man shouted.

In small green spaces close to the damaged buildings, tents were put up for survivors and frightened families.

Throughout the night, hot soup and water were available for those waiting outside as the temperature fell.

“It was so cold last night,” said Nilgun Yikariz, 59, who was sleeping on the grass in a small tent outside her apartment.

Nearby, Azize Akkoyun waited for news about her daughter’s missing in-laws.

“Those curtains, they belonged to my daughter’s in-laws,” Akkoyun told AFP. “We will wait all night. God willing they will come out alive.”

‘We’re helpless’

Residents said Bayrakli, with a population of more than 300,000, was a fast-developing district with new buildings popping up on the outskirts of the Aegean resort city of Izmir.

The smashing of concrete, heavy machinery and dust filled the air except for the moments when everything stopped in the hope of hearing a longed-for call for help from a survivor.

As Cemalettin Enginyurt, 51, and his family settled inside their white tent, he described feeling “helpless”.

The retired soldier said his family’s home suffered “serious” cracks and he feared people being unable to tell if their homes were fit to return to.

“As it currently is and with the risk of aftershocks, we decided the solution was to stay outside. Izmir has a mild climate, we’ll be alright in the short term but we’re not sure about the long term,” he said.

Hope grew that more survivors could be found following reports in Turkish media that a mother and her three children were rescued some 23 hours after disaster struck.

A 53-year-old and 62-year-old were also pulled out alive hours after the quake, media reports said.

The government’s disaster agency AFAD said 100 people have been rescued.

The latest earthquake will renew fears over when Istanbul might be hit by a big tremor after the devastating 7.4-magnitude one in 1999 in Izmit, western Turkey.

Some 17,000 people died then, including 1,000 in Istanbul.

This is the second powerful earthquake to hit Turkey this year, after one in the eastern city of Elazig killed more than 30 people in January.

‘Lost souls’

The tremor was felt as far away as Athens and Istanbul.

On the Greek island of Samos, which is home to a large migrants camp, the civil protection agency described the situation as “extremely difficult”.

“Churches, ports and houses will be rebuilt. With the help of God and men,” said Priest Emmanouil, whose church in the island village of Pythagorio was damaged. “But lost souls do not return.”

Turkey reported around 550 aftershocks following the quake, including 35 that were above four in magnitude.

Rescuers had not lost hope, but a sense of peril hung over the coastal province, with large cracks and broken plaster lining buildings that looked like they could fall from another bad shake.

In Bayrakli’s city centre, families wept and prayed at the first funerals for the victims of the quake.

“I can’t cry anymore. Look I’m not crying,” one woman wailed. “Mother, when will I see you again?”