Turkish teams hunt for quake survivors as death toll hits 31

ANKARA, TURKEY (AP) — Working against the clock in freezing temperatures, Turkish rescue teams pulled more survivors from collapsed buildings yesterday, days after a powerful magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit the country’s east.

Authorities said the death toll rose to at least 31 people.

Turkish television showed Ayse Yildiz, 35, and her two-year-old daughter Yusra being dragged out of the rubble of a collapsed apartment building in the city of Elazig. They had been trapped for 28 hours after the earthquake struck last Friday night.

The magnitude 6.8 quake also injured over 1,600 people but 45 survivors have been pulled alive from the rubble so far, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference in Istanbul yesterday.

As overnight temperatures dropped to -5 degrees Celsius, emergency teams set up over 9,500 tents for displaced residents and distributed 17,000 hot meals.

Rescue workers carry a wounded man who was found alive in the rubble of a building destroyed in last Friday’s earthquake in Elazig, eastern Turkey. PHOTO: AP

Rescue teams concentrated their efforts in the city’s Mustafa Pasa neighbourhood and the nearby town of Sivrice, the closest residential area to the quake’s epicentre.

Nearly 600 aftershocks rocked the region as over 3,500 rescue experts scrambled through wrecked buildings to reach survivors, working around the clock. A magnitude 4.3 quake hit also neighbouring Malatya province yesterday, the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said.

The agency said 76 buildings were destroyed and over 1,000 damaged in the quake. Unmanned aerial drones were being used to survey damaged neighbourhoods and coordinate rescue efforts.

Erdogan said every effort was being made to alleviate conditions and promised to house displaced residents as soon as possible.

“Turkey has begun to heal the wounds of this great disaster in unity, togetherness and coming together,” he said.

The President visited the disaster zone last Saturday to inspect the rescue operation, meet with injured people in the hospital and attend the funeral of a mother and son.

Erdogan also condemned what he called a “smear campaign” on social media by those questioning the Turkish government’s preparations for earthquakes. A prosecutor in Ankara has opened an investigation into social media posts about last Friday’s quake.

Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, which sits atop two major fault lines.

Across Turkey, there was an outpouring of support for victims of the quake. Some football clubs announced they would donate the receipts of their weekend matches while fans of the Fenerbahce football club threw scarves and hats on to the pitch during a game in Istanbul, chanting “Cold Elazig, Fenerbahce is with you!”

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said last Saturday that 128 people were receiving hospital treatment after the quake, 34 of them in intensive care but not in critical condition.

Victims of the quake were taking refugee in tents, mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories. Authorities warned people not to return to homes that could be unsafe.

A prison in Adiyaman, 110 kilometres southwest of the epicentre, was evacuated due to damage, with over 800 prisoners transferred to nearby jails.

Last Friday’s main quake hit at 8.55pm in the city that lies 565 kilometres east of Ankara. It’s not the first time Elazig has seen a fatal quake — a magnitude 6.0 earthquake killed 51 people there in 2010.

Turkey’s worst quake in decades came in 1999, when a pair of strong earthquakes struck northwest Turkey, killing around 18,000 people.