Tue, Oct 25, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Desperate search on for Turkey quake survivors

AFP and AP, ERCIS, TURKEY

A rescue worker carrying a girl runs to an ambulance after his team found her alive in a collapsed building in Ercis, Turkey, yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Rescuers scrambled through the rubble yesterday in a desperate search for survivors of an earthquake that killed at least 264 people in Turkey, as residents fled the scenes of devastation.

People living in the eastern Van Province issued cries for help on Twitter, giving out the addresses of collapsed buildings and the number of people trapped under the debris, as hundreds of rescuers worked round the clock.

Two children were plucked alive from the wreckage of a collapsed building in the town of Ercis, along with two others, including Yalcin Akay, who was dug out with a leg injury after he called a police emergency line on his cellphone and described his location.

Many students were believed to be buried in Ercis, the town that felt the full brunt of the earthquake, after a dormitory collapsed and several student houses crumbled.

A total of 264 people were confirmed to have been killed by the magnitude 7.2 earthquake, which struck around lunchtime on Sunday, according to Turkish Minister of the Interior Idris Naim Sener.

In Ercis, 169 people were killed, while 95 died in Van’s city center, Anatolia news agency quoted Sener as saying.

The government said that a total of 970 buildings had collapsed as a result of the quake and aftershocks.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said that rescuers had now managed to get access to all the quake-hit zones in Van Province, including remote villages.

“We couldn’t understand what was going on — all of a sudden there was dust everywhere, our eyes were full of dust, and we were thrown against the walls and furniture. It lasted 20 seconds,” 23-year-old resident of Ercis Yunus Ozmen said. “We spent the night outside in the street and made a fire to keep warm.”

His neighbor Abdul Hadi Isik said that his aunt and her children were buried under the rubble.

“There is no hope left,” he said.

Journalists in Ercis reported that the rescue effort was being hampered by a lack of electricity and water.

Atalay said 29 villages and 40 percent of Ercis town were without power, but denied there was a problem with water.

Many residents were fleeing the town, while police and soldiers kept watch around crumbled buildings to prevent looting.

Using electrical pliers, rescuers could be seen patiently cutting through iron rods holding concrete blocks together, while other people started to sweep up the mess.

The town’s soccer pitch had been transformed into a sea of tents set up by the Turkish Red Crescent.

While scores of multi-story buildings had collapsed, most single-story houses remained intact.

Only 9 percent of buildings in Van Province had compulsory earthquake insurance, according to Selamet Yazici, the general manager of the natural disaster insurance institution.

In the province’s main city of Van, authorities shut down Yuzunci Yil University and sent more than 4,000 students back to their hometowns, Anatolia reported.

About 200 inmates fled the province’s main prison when the building was damaged in the quake, media reports said, adding that 50 of them returned to prison later after seeing their families.

Turkey mobilized about 2,400 search and rescue teams from 45 cities to speed to the aid of the victims, the emergency unit of the prime minister’s office said. More than 200 ambulances were sent to Van, Turkish Minister of Health Recep Akdag added.

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