105 hours after massive quake, a woman and 5 young children are brought out alive

Ms Zeynep Kahraman was rescued more than four days after she was buried in tonnes of rubble following Monday's massive earthquake in Turkey and Syria. PHOTO: REUTERS

KIRIKHAN, Turkey – Rescuers pulled a woman alive on Friday, 105 hours after tonnes of concrete, metal and other debris rained down on her following a massive earthquake that wrought so much death and destruction across Turkey and Syria.

An 18-month-old boy and at least four young children were also rescued by teams of specialists who flew in from across the globe.

Still, the death toll had already surpassed 22,000 as of Friday evening.

“Now, I believe in miracles,” rescue team leader Steven Bayer said after crews carefully lifted 40-year-old Zeynep Kahraman on a stretcher past shattered blocks of concrete and twisted metal into an ambulance in the town of Kirikhan.

“You can see the people crying and hugging each other. It’s such a huge relief that this woman under such conditions came out so fit. It’s an absolute miracle,” he said.

Ms Kahraman lay still, strapped into the stretcher with her arms across her chest, her eyes shielded from the sudden light by dark glasses. Her younger sister Zuebeyde looked on and hugged a worker from the German International Search and Rescue team.

“The woman pulled through. She didn’t give up,” rescue dog handler Tamara Reither said as crowds applauded. “We are all so grateful that she is lying in this ambulance now. I have no words.”

Ms Zuebeyde Kahraman thanking rescuers after her sister Zeynep was pulled from the debris by ISAR Germany, in Kirikhan, Turkey, on Feb 10, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

Ms Kahraman’s family told Reuters this week they waited two days for rescuers to arrive after Monday’s quake.

The German workers made contact with Zeynep while she was still deep inside the rubble and kept her hydrated through a hose. At one point, they helped Zuebeyde climb down a ladder close to her sister’s position to speak to her.

Death, but also life

In the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, one of those hit hardest by the region’s worst earthquake in nearly a century, the stench of death clung to the air.

But as crews entered a fifth day of peeling back flattened buildings, Turkish media reported rescues of young children, long after the expiration of the 72-hour window when survivors are considered most likely to be found.

In the 105th hour, rescuers pulled 18-month-old Yusuf Huseyin from the debris in the south-eastern city of Antakya. Twenty minutes later, they rescued seven-year-old Muhammed Huseyin, NTV news channel reported.

Three-year-old Zeynep Ela Parlak was also rescued in Antakya on Friday, while in Adiyaman province, rescuers saved a 60-year-old Eyup Ak. In Gaziantep, two people were pulled out alive, including a child whose age was not known.

“Half an hour ago, we managed to rescue two living people out of the rubble,” the Czech fire service tweeted on Friday of their teams in south-eastern Turkey’s Adiyaman.

On Thursday, rescuers pulled a 10-day-old baby and his mother out alive after 90 hours trapped in hard-hit Hatay province, Turkish officials said.

The baby boy named Yagiz Ulas was swiftly wrapped in a thermal blanket.

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Turkey’s miners – experts in rescuing their own colleagues – told how they rushed to help people trapped by Monday’s magnitude-7.8 quake.

“Our hearts couldn’t take this,” said miner Ismail Hakki Kalkan.

Yet, the bodies of seven Cypriot children, as well as two teachers and a parent killed by the earthquake in Adiyaman, were flown home on Friday, with Turkish media reporting that 19 children in the group died.

Two dozen children aged 11 to 14 from the island, along with 10 parents, four teachers and a volleyball coach, were in Turkey for a school tournament and had been staying in a hotel that was destroyed.

‘Moment of unity’

In a region home to many displaced and traumatised by Syria’s civil war, worries were growing over the many people left without shelter amid freezing temperatures.

UN aid and rescue teams have arrived, while the US Agency for International Development offered an US$85 million (S$113 million) package, including food, shelter and emergency health services.

World Health Organisation head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths have both announced upcoming visits.

“As this tragic event unfolds, people’s desperate plight must be addressed,” said the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Ms Mirjana Spoljaric, who travelled to quake-hit Aleppo in Syria.

Outlawed Kurdish militants are temporarily suspending “operations” in Turkey after the massive quake in the country and Syria.

“Thousands of our people are under the rubble. Everyone must mobilise using all their means,” PKK leader Cemil Bayik was quoted as saying late on Thursday by ANF, a news agency close to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

A decade of civil war and Syrian-Russian aerial bombardment had already destroyed hospitals, collapsed the economy and prompted electricity, fuel and water shortages.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Security Council to authorise the opening of new cross-border humanitarian aid points between Turkey and Syria.

“This is the moment of unity. It’s not a moment to politicise or to divide but it is obvious that we need massive support,” Guterres said.

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Temperatures in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, located near the epicentre of the quake, plunged to minus 3 deg C early on Friday.

Despite the cold, thousands of families have been living in cars and makeshift tents – too scared or banned from returning to their homes.

Gyms, mosques, schools and some stores have opened at night. But beds are scarce, and thousands spend the nights in cars with engines running to provide heat.

Monday’s quake was the largest Turkey has seen since 1939, when 33,000 people died in the eastern Erzincan province.

Officials and medics said 18,991 people had died in Turkey and 3,377 in Syria from Monday’s tremor, bringing the confirmed total to 22,368.

Experts fear the number will continue to rise.

‘Quiet is agonising’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) speaking to victims of the earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, on Feb 8, 2023. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Anger has mounted over the Turkish government’s handling of the disaster.

“People who didn’t die from the earthquake were left to die in the cold,” Mr Hakan Tanriverdi told Agence France-Presse in Adiyaman province.

On a visit to the area, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted there had been “shortcomings” in the government’s handling of the disaster.

In the devastated Turkish town of Nurdagi, close to the epicentre, emergency workers using drones and heat detecting monitors ordered silence when a potential survivor was found.

“The quiet is agonising. We just don’t know what to expect,” Emre, a local resident, said as he waited next to one block on a main road into the town. AFP, REUTERS

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