The Daily Telegraph

Families help to sift rubble as rescuers struggle to cope

Flood of volunteers attempting to assist search teams amid warnings death toll will hit 20,000

- By Campbell Macdiarmid in Antakya

Mehmet Can Yigitbas was buried in rubble for so long that his feet and lips turned blue. The freezing concrete slabs pinning him in his aunt’s collapsed apartment had sapped his strength by the time rescuers realised he was still alive on Monday morning.

He was trapped for so long that when they reached him, his cousin Hakan Yigitbas had arrived at the scene, having travelled all the way to Antakya from Istanbul.

The pallid 32-year-old was dragged out on a stretcher by soldiers 36 hours after Monday’s earthquake destroyed most of the buildings in this southern Turkish city, but his survival was still far from assured. Fortunate, then, that his cousin – a professor of surgery

– was on hand to oversee his treatment.

“He has crush injuries, as is to be expected,” said Dr Yigitbas, as paramedics applied a neck brace and administer­ed fluids before the two cousins departed in an ambulance.

If Mr Yigitbas was lucky to be rescued alive, many others were less fortunate. The Daily Telegraph saw at least eight dead bodies pulled from the rubble, a tiny fraction of a death toll the World Health Organisati­on has warned could reach 20,000.

Despite emergency services being overwhelme­d by the devastatio­n wreaked by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, the prospect of finding more people alive kept search teams motivated as they entered a third night of uninterrup­ted rescue efforts.

Less than 100 metres from the building where Mr Yigitbas was recovered off Antakya’s main highway north, volunteers worked into the night, desperatel­y attempting to reach a trapped 15-year-old girl entombed alive in a collapsed building, her legs pinned under rubble.

“We need a jackhammer, we need electricit­y,” a man shouted from a precarious third-storey perch, as his colleagues attempted to wriggle deeper into the teetering structure.

Inside the building, the men used hammers, drills and an angle grinder powered by a generator to try to open a route to the girl, who was trapped alongside her family.

Standing amid a small crowd of onlookers, the girl’s uncle could only pray. “All of my brother’s family is inside the building,” said Mehmet Aldic, 50. But only his brother and his niece had made any noise, he added.

It was unclear whether anyone else had survived the building’s collapse, or the ensuing two freezing nights.

A drive through this city of 200,000 inhabitant­s showed that many others remained in the same unenviable position. Nearly every building in Antakya – set amid snowy hills a dozen miles from the coast and the Syrian border – was damaged or destroyed. Some collapsed inwards, others fell against each other or tilted wildly.

Residents counted themselves fortunate if they lived in a building where only one or two floors had collapsed, or if a neighbouri­ng structure caught their own before it could fall. Improvised ladders and knotted sheets left dangling from balconies showed where lucky inhabitant­s had made their escape.

With Antakya’s airport closed and roads to ports and other southern cities damaged, emergency aid must travel a tortuous route to reach the city centre.

Once emergency workers reopened the main highway north, volunteers began arriving in their thousands, with many flying into Adana, the nearest city with an open airport.

“Here is the biggest destructio­n in Turkey but the lowest priority and I don’t know why,” said Haroon, a 26-year-old dentist from Istanbul who had volunteere­d to provide medical care but found himself standing by watching rescue efforts.

“There is nothing here I can do, but we will wait,” he said, vowing to stay on for at least a week. But he thought too many had remained in Adana taking too long to deploy elsewhere.

“In Adana there were just 10 buildings down but at each of them rescue was run by profession­al teams with diggers but no civilians,” he said.

But endless wailing sirens of emergency vehicles suggested that the provision of profession­al help was also being hindered by the thousands of eager but disorganis­ed volunteers who had travelled from across the country.

While internatio­nal rescue teams arrived by their thousands at airports in Istanbul, Ankara and Adana, many thousands more local volunteers donned fluorescen­t vests to contribute in whatever way they could.

“They told us ‘Just go’,” said Thabet, a Turkish Airlines worker who described being offloaded from a bus with no equipment and no orders after landing on a flight from Istanbul.

With profession­al rescuers overwhelme­d, residents undertook increasing­ly desperate measures to rescue trapped loved ones.

Ege, a business management student from Istanbul, watched with concern as an earthmover tore into the rubble of a toppled building.

“They are picking sites randomly,” he said. “It’s not a safe way to do this. When you tell these people not to use bulldozers or cranes they don’t listen.”

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 ?? ?? Quake victims’ families try to help rescuers working amid the rubble in Iskenderun, left; a man holds his dead daughter’s hand in Kahramanma­ras
Quake victims’ families try to help rescuers working amid the rubble in Iskenderun, left; a man holds his dead daughter’s hand in Kahramanma­ras

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