Few survivors pulled from rubble in Turkey

ISTANBUL

Heavy machinery removed huge chunks of fallen concrete Monday to search for survivors of the deadly earthquake in eastern Turkey.

Onur Eryasar dug for hours with his bare hands.

The military officer had rushed to the scene in the town of Ercis, where his fiance, Gul Karakoc, and two friends were trapped in rubble of an Internet cafe, NTV reported.

The rescue of Karakoc 17 hours after the 7.2-magnitude earthquake was among the stories of heroism and survival reported Monday. As a cold night fell, people took shelter in tents and grieved for the dead. The death toll rose to 279.

Government officials refused to say how many people had been rescued, but media reports said at least 25 survivors had been found Monday.

They included 19-year-old Yalcin Akay, who was rescued in Ercis, after he called the police on his cellphone while he was buried in the rubble of a six-story building, then helped lead his rescuers to his location, the Anatolian Agency reported.

A 13-year-old boy, identified only as Yunus, was pulled from the rubble of an Internet cafe in Ercis, a town of about 100,000.

He was trapped under a concrete slab. The lifeless hand of an adult, with a wedding ring on one finger, rested on his shoulder.

Television broadcast the moment of his rescue, his eyes wide with fright.

About 3,000 rescue workers and 12 specially trained dogs had been called out, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said in a news conference that was broadcast nationally. He said about 2,260 buildings had collapsed near Van, a city of about 1 million.

The prime minister's office said about 1,300 people had been injured in the quake, which struck near Van on Sunday.

Although the death toll was slowly ratcheting upward, Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said it was unlikely to reach the 1,000 deaths feared Sunday.

Authorities said 10 of the dead were students at a religious school that collapsed.

Grieving families cried outside a mosque in Ercis.

"My nephew, his wife and their child, all three dead. May God protect us from this kind of grief," resident Kursat Lap said.

Dozens of bodies were placed in bags or covered by blankets, laid in rows so people could search for their missing relatives.

"It's my grandson's wife. She was stuck underneath rubble," said Mehmet Emin Umac.

"This is one of the strongest earthquakes registered in Turkey in recent years," Arinc said. "Our relief efforts include everything that would apply in an officially declared disaster region."

Thousands of people whose homes were destroyed or were considered unstable were spending the nights outside, with temperatures forecast to be as low as 28 degrees.

About 9,000 tents and more than 25,000 blankets were shipped to the region, which is about 730 miles east of Ankara, the capital, and near the borders with Armenia and Iran. The government was also sending in food supplies.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan flew to Van. It is a quake-prone area that is a hotbed of activity for Kurdistan Workers Party militants.

Erdogan said he feared for the fate of villages with houses made of mud brick, saying: "Almost all buildings in such villages are destroyed."

The government said it had set aside about $1.7 million in disaster aid, and donations of money and supplies were coming in from civilian groups and private donors throughout Turkey, the official crisis center in Ankara reported.

Leaders around the world, including President Barack Obama, conveyed their condolences and offered assistance, but Erdogan said Turkey was able to cope for now. Azerbaijan, Iran and Bulgaria still sent aid, he said.

Among those offering help were Israel, Greece and Armenia, who all have had issues in their relations with Turkey.

The offer from Israel came despite a rift in relations after a 2010 Israeli navy raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turks dead. Greece, which has a deep dispute with Turkey over the divided island of Cyprus, also offered to send a special earthquake rescue team.

Arinc denied initial reports that his government had refused the Israeli offer.

Information from the Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers and Reuters was used in this report.

279

death toll as of Monday

1,300

people injured

2,260

buildings collapsed near Van

213

aftershocks reported in Turkey

Few survivors pulled from rubble in Turkey 10/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 12:26am]

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