Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
Quake rescues provide brief relief
Tragedy’s death toll tops 23,000 despite drama-filled efforts
ISKENDERUN, Turkey — Rescuers pulled several earthquake survivors from the shattered remnants of buildings Friday, including some who lasted more than 100 hours trapped under crushed concrete after the disaster slammed Turkey and Syria and killed more than 23,000 people.
Survivors included six relatives who huddled in a small pocket under the rubble, a teenager who drank his own urine and a 4-year-old boy who was offered a jelly bean to calm him down as he was shimmied out.
But the flurry of dramatic rescues — some broadcast live on Turkish television — could not obscure the overwhelming devastation of what Turkey’s president called one of the greatest disasters in his nation’s history. Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to twisted metal, pulverized concrete and exposed wires, and the magnitude 7.8 quake has already killed more people than Japan’s Fukushima earthquake and tsunami in 2011, with many more bodies undoubtedly yet to be recovered and counted.
Four days after the earthquake hammered a sprawling border region that is home to over 13.5 million people, relatives wept and chanted as rescuers pulled 17-year-old Adnan Muhammed Korkut from a basement in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the epicenter. He had been trapped for 94 hours, forced to drink his own urine to survive.
“Thank God you arrived,” he said, hugging his mother and others as he was being loaded into an ambulance.
For one of the rescuers, identified only as Yasemin, Adnan’s survival hit home hard.
“I have a son just like you,” she told him after giving him a warm hug. “I swear to you, I have not slept for four days. ... I was trying to get you out.”
In Adiyaman, meanwhile, rescue crews pulled 4-yearold Yagiz Komsu from the debris of his home, 105 hours after the quake struck. They later managed to rescue his mother, Ayfer Komsu, who survived with a fractured rib, according to HaberTurk television, which broadcast the rescue live.
The crowd was asked not to cheer or applaud to avoid scaring the child, who was given a jelly bean, the station reported.
Elsewhere, HaberTurk said rescuers had identified nine people trapped inside the remains of a high-rise apartment block in Iskenderun and pulled out six of them, including a woman who waved at onlookers as she was being carried away on a stretcher.
The building was only 600 feet from the Mediterranean Sea and narrowly avoided being flooded when the massive earthquake sent water surging into the city center.
There were still more stories: A married couple was pulled from the rubble in Iskenderun after spending 109 hours buried in a small crevice. A German team said it worked for more than 50 hours to free a woman from a collapsed house in Kirikhan. In the hard-hit city of Kahramanmaras, two teenage sisters were saved, and video of the operation showed one emergency worker playing a pop song on his smartphone to distract them.
And the work continued: A trapped woman could be heard speaking to a team trying to dig her out in video broadcast by HaberTurk. She told her would-be rescuers that she had given up hope of being found — and prayed to be put to sleep because she was so cold. The station did not say where the operation was taking place.
Experts say trapped people can live for a week or more, but the chances of finding survivors are dimming.
The rescues Friday provided fleeting moments of joy and relief amid the misery gripping the shattered region where morgues and cemeteries are overwhelmed and bodies lie wrapped in blankets, rugs and tarps in the streets of some cities.
Temperatures remain below freezing across the region, and many people have no shelter.
The Turkish government has distributed millions of hot meals, as well as tents and blankets, but was still struggling to reach many people in need.
The disaster compounded suffering in a region beset by Syria’s 12-year civil war, which has displaced millions within the country and left them dependent on aid. The fighting sent millions more to seek refuge in Turkey.
The conflict has isolated many areas of Syria, and complicated efforts to get aid in. The U.N. said the first earthquake-related aid convoy reached northwestern Syria on Friday — a day after an aid shipment planned before the disaster arrived.
The U.N. refugee agency estimates as many as 5.3 million people have been left homeless in Syria. Sivanka Dhanapala, the country representative in Syria for UNHCR, said Friday that the agency is focusing on providing tents, plastic sheeting, thermal blankets, sleeping mats and winter clothing.
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asmaa, visited survivors at the Aleppo University Hospital, according to Syrian state media. He then visited rescuers in one of the city’s hardest-hit areas.
The Syrian government on Friday also said it will allow aid to reach all parts of the country, including areas held by insurgent groups in the northwest.
More than 3,500 have been confirmed killed in Syria.