ERCIS Turkey - Emergency workers rescued a 27-year-old woman alive from a collapsed building on Wednesday, three days after an earthquake killed more than 400 people in eastern Turkey, but hopes of finding more survivors faded and some teams were suspending searches.
Tens of thousands have been left homeless by the powerful 7.2 magnitude quake, which has now prompted the government to request foreign aid, including from Israel, to shelter distraught families amid growing complaints of a lack of tents and other relief supplies.
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Officials said prospects of finding survivors buried under tons of rubble were waning as time passed and winter temperatures fell, but Gozde Bahar, an English teacher, was pulled out alive in the town of Ercis, the hardest hit by the quake. As she was being transported to hospital her heart briefly stopped. She was in critical condition.
"Of course I still have hope," Bahar's fiance, Hasan Gurcan, 29, said looking dazed as he relayed the news on his mobile.
The survival of a 14-day-old prematurely born baby girl called Azra rescued on Tuesday also lifted spirits.
"We have hope. There are always miracles. Normally, we do not expect
anyone to survive after 72 hours but people have survived longer than
that before," said a rescue official standing by the collapsed building
where Azra was found.
But a senior rescue official in Van told Reuters: "Search and rescue
operation in the center of Van are now over. We have reached the bottom
of the wreckage and searches are now over in the center of Van." He said
the searches in the center of the town had included six buildings.
On a main street in Van rescue workers pulled out the dead body of a
woman in her 20s from the flattened remains of a seven-story apartment
"Our bride, our angel has gone," said a small group of women who cried
as the woman's corpse was brought out, sealed in a body bag and taken
away in an ambulance.
While the death toll that struck eastern Van province near the Iranian
border stood at 459, officials said it was likely to rise as many people
were still missing.
"We don't think there are any more bodies inside this wreckage," an
official from the Ankara civil defense union told Reuters after working
to pull the woman out. His group was giving up searching in the remains
of what was a relatively new building.
Two women bystanders said workmen had recently pulled down columns in
the building in order to convert a supermarket into a pharmaceuticals
depot. One of the women worried about the onset of cold weather.
"It's impossible to live in tents in Van. Look how cold it is and it is
only October and now snow is on its way. We have a two-year-old child.
What are we going to do with him?" said a woman in her 40s who only
identified herself as Emine.
She said her family was sleeping in a car because, although their home
had not collapsed, cracks made it uninhabitable. She also complained
about the apparent lack of soup kitchens.Ordeal under rubble
At a demolished building in central Ercis rescue workers who had worked
non-stop for more than 48 hours switched off their generators and
lights, convinced no one could be left alive.
Seconds after the lights went out, they received word that someone trapped below had made contact on a mobile phone.
"There are three people trapped under there. When we lifted a concrete
slab, the phone must have been able to get reception," said one rescue
worker, as the lights were turned back on and his team returned to their
At a makeshift field hospital in a sports hall outside Ercis, wounded and sick patients lay groaning on mattresses.
Orhan Acar, 30, was looking for his missing brother, Coskun, 25, who was in the center of Ercis when the quake struck.
"I have been looking for him the whole time since the quake but my hope is diminishing as time goes by," he said.Earthquake diplomacy?
Complaints over the lack of tents have grown louder with each passing
day, and some desperate survivors fought among themselves to try and
grab tents being distributed by relief workers from the back of a truck.
The Turkish Red Crescent has been struggling to deliver fast enough to
provide shelter for victims of the quake shivering in freezing
temperatures at night.
Having started out by saying Turkey could handle the disaster alone,
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government put out requests on Tuesday
to 30 countries, including Israel, for emergency materials, including
prefabricated housing, tents and containers.
Israel, whose ties with Turkey hit rock bottom after Israeli commandos
killed nine Turks on board a Gaza-bound flotilla last year, immediately
said it was launching an airlift of supplies, starting with a shipment
of prefabricated homes on Wednesday.
Turkey's most powerful quake in a decade is one more affliction for
Kurds, the dominant ethnic group in the impoverished southeast, where
more than 40,000 people have been killed in a three-decade-long
"There is absolutely no coordination, you have to step on people to get a tent," said jobless Suleyman Akbulut, 18.
Japan's embassy in Ankara said its government was donating $400,000 to
the relief effort and would be sending urgently needed items including
People in Van, Ercis and other towns and villages in the region were
fearful of returning to their damaged homes as more than 200 aftershocks
have rattled the quake zone since Sunday.
Prisoners in a jail in Van rioted on Tuesday because they feared they
would be crushed in their cells when a 5.4 magnitude aftershock struck
and spread panic.
The inmates set fire to the jail and fought their guards before troops
were sent in to quell the violence. Firefighters put out the flames.
Members of parliament from a pro-Kurdish party joined negotiations between prisoners and officials to restore calm.
"Inmates naturally wanted to go out in the yard after the strong
aftershock. They weren't allowed, there was chaos," said parliamentarian