Turkish teams hunt for quake survivors as death toll hits 38

Working against the clock in freezing temperatures, Turkish rescue teams pulled more survivors from collapsed buildings Sunday, days after a powerful, 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit the country’s east. Rescued survivors wept with gratitude for their efforts.

Turkish authorities said the death toll rose to at least 38 people from the magnitude 6.8 earthquake that struck Friday night.

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, the epicentre of the quake. They had been trapped for 28 hours.

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

More than 780 aftershocks rocked the region as over 3,500 rescue experts scrambled through wrecked buildings to reach survivors, working around the clock. Rescue teams concentrated their efforts in the city’s Mustafa Pasa neighbourhood and the nearby town of Sivrice.

Rescue workers carry a young child who was found alive in the rubble of a building in Elazig, eastern Turkey, late Saturday. (Ismail Coskun/Ihlas News Agency via AP)

One rescued couple was reunited with a Syrian student who had helped to dig them out of their collapsed home with his hands.

“He is our hero and angel,” a weeping Dudane Aydin said of Mahmud al Osman in an interview on Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

Her husband Zulkuf added: “When I saw the light of Mahmud’s phone, we started shouting for help. Then we knew we would get out.”

He said Mahmud helped him out but when the student tried to rescue his wife her leg was trapped by debris.

Overnight sub-zero temperatures

“Some locals held Mahmud by the legs and stretching toward my wife he worked to save her. After saving my wife, he tried to help others,” the man said.

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

Women from Elazig are seen on Sunday near tents set up following the earthquake. (Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images)

The agency said 76 buildings were destroyed and more than 1,000 were damaged by the quake. Unmanned aerial drones were being used to survey damaged neighbourhoods and co-ordinate rescue efforts.

The Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency said 20 of the aftershocks measured magnitude 4.0 or above, including a 4.3-magnitude quake that hit the neighbouring province of Malatya on Sunday morning.

The quake injured more than 1,600 people and left some trapped in the wreckage of toppled buildings, like this one in Elazig. Turkey sits on top of two major fault lines and earthquakes are frequent in the country. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Erdogan said every effort was being made to find survivors 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.

At least 104 people were receiving hospital treatment after the quake, 13 of them in intensive care, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

Government minister attends funeral

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu promised financial help for the victims of the quake. He then attended the funeral of five members of the same family — a married couple, their daughter and two grandchildren — with other ministers and officials. The 12-year-old boy was buried in the same coffin as his baby sister.

“You arrived two months ago. I wish you had stayed a little longer,” the children’s father, Serhat Aslan, said of his daughter.

Relatives grieve during a funeral ceremony for five members of the Aslan family on Sunday who died when the quake struck in Elazig. (Burak Kara/Getty Images)

On Saturday, the president visited the disaster zone 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 Friday’s quake.

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

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

Quake victims were taking refuge 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 quake damages, with more than 800 prisoners transferred to nearby jails.

Friday’s main quake hit at 8:55 p.m in the city that lies 565 kilometres east of Ankara. It’s not the first time that 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.

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