Stunning rescues in earthquake zone even as hopes of more dim fast
Emergency crews made a series of dramatic rescues in Turkey on Friday, pulling several people, some almost unscathed, from the rubble, four days after catastrophic earthquakes and aftershocks killed more than 21,000.
The U.S. State Department confirmed Thursday that at least three Americans were among the dead in Turkey. Relatives and friends of a New York City family of four told CBS New York that the family had perished in Turkey. It was unclear whether they were among the three Americans mentioned by the State Department.
Temperatures remained below freezing across the large earthquake-stricken border region between Turkey and Syria, an area home to more than 13.5 million people, and many survivors had no place to shelter. The Turkish government distributed millions of hot meals, as well as tents and blankets, but was still struggling to reach many in need, as winter weather and damage to roads and airports have hampered the response of aid and rescue personnel.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made his first visit to an earthquake-affected area of Syria on Friday, visiting survivors at a hospital in Aleppo, Syrian state media reported. Aleppo, already scarred by years of heavy bombardment, is Syria’s second city, and was among the most devastated by Monday’s quakes.
In northwestern Syria, the first U.N. aid trucks since the quake to enter the rebel-controlled area from Turkey arrived Thursday, underscoring the difficulty of getting help to people there. On Friday, the Shaam Network, a media group run by activists in the opposition-held part of Syria, reported that a U.N. aid convoy of 14 trucks had arrived there.
WHO Regional Emergency Director Dr. Richard Brennan said from government-controlled Latakia, Syria, that it’s “amazing the way the local community has responded. … Their resilience is inspiring. The aid has not started to flow at the level we would expect at this stage and this is what we’re working on right now. We have to help these people to help themselves.”
Experts say people trapped under collapsed buildings can potentially survive for a week or more, but the chances of finding survivors in the freezing temperatures were dimming Friday. Emergency crews and panicked relatives dug through the rubble – and occasionally found people alive – but some focus began to shift to demolishing dangerously unstable structures.
Mustafa Turan rushed to his hometown of Adiyaman, Turkey from Istanbul hours after the quake struck to check on his relatives. He counted 248 collapsed buildings between the airport and the city center.
The journalist said Friday that 15 of his relatives had been killed and scores of people were sleeping outside or in tents.
“At night, about 4 a.m., it got so cold that our drinking water froze,” he said.
Engineers in Turkey suggested the scale of the devastation is partly explained by lax enforcement of building codes, which some have warned for years would make them vulnerable to earthquakes. The problem has been largely ignored, experts said, because addressing it would be expensive, unpopular and restrain a key engine of the country’s economic growth.
Before dawn in Gaziantep, near the epicenter of the quake in Turkey, rescuers pulled Adnan Muhammed Korkut from the basement where he’d been trapped since the temblor struck Monday. The 17-year-old beamed a smile at the crowd of friends and relatives who chanted “Adnan,” “Adnan,” clapping and crying tears of joy as he was carried out and put onto a stretcher.
Click Here: Chiefs rugby store
“Thank God you arrived,” he said, embracing his mother and others who leaned down to kiss and hug him as he was being loaded into an ambulance. “Thank you everyone.”
Trapped for 94 hours, but not crushed, the teenager said he’d been forced to drink his own urine to quench his thirst.
“I was able to survive that way,” he said.
“I have a son just like you,” a rescue worker, identified only as Yasemin, told him after giving him a warm hug. “I swear to you, I have not slept for four days. I swear I did not sleep; I was trying to get you out.”
Dramatic rescues were reported elsewhere, including in the city of Antakya, where crews saved a 10-year-old girl overnight and on Friday. Elsewhere in Hatay province, in the city of Iskenderun, nine survivors were located Friday trapped in a building. Six were saved and work was ongoing to reach the others.
The death toll from the earthquake, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called “the disaster of the century,” has eclipsed the more-than 18,400 who died in the 2011 earthquake off Fukushima, Japan that triggered a tsunami, and the estimated 18,000 people who died in a temblor near Istanbul in 1999.
Some 12,000 buildings in Turkey have either collapsed or sustained serious damage, according to Turkey’s minister of environment and urban planning, Murat Kurum.
Aerial footage from over the earthquake zone in Turkey revealed entire neighborhoods of high-rises reduced to twisted metal, pulverized concrete and exposed wires.
In Kahramanmaras, the city closest to the epicenter, a sports hall the size of a basketball court served as a makeshift morgue to accommodate and identify bodies.
Some in Turkey have complained that the government was slow to respond – a perception that could hurt Erdogan at a time when he faces a tough battle for reelection in May.
Erdogan has been visiting affected cities over the last two days.
With the majority of Turkey’s media under the control of the government, television stations have been mainly focusing on rescue efforts, with hardly any reports on the hardship suffered on the ground.
Turkey’s disaster-management agency said more than 120,000 rescue personnel were now taking part in the effort and more than 12,000 vehicles, including tractors, cranes, bulldozers and excavators had been shipped.
The Foreign Ministry said 95 countries have offered help, and nearly 7,000 rescue personnel had been sent to assist.