Boy's rescue five days after Turkish quake lifts hearts

Thirteen-year-old boy is pulled alive from rubble; death toll rises to 573, 2,608 injured; survivors complain about slowness of relief efforts.

Turkey rescue effort 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkey rescue effort 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ERCIS, Turkey - Rescue workers pulled a 13-year-old boy alive out of the rubble of an apartment block on Friday, five days after a powerful earthquake that killed at least 570 people in eastern Turkey.
"It is a great miracle," Neriman, the boy's 34-year-old mother told Reuters. "He told me he prayed and when he said all his prayers and there were no more left he recited the national anthem."
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The rescue lifted Turkish spirits as thousands of quake survivors endured a fifth freezing and wet night without a roof over their heads, and recriminations flew over the pace of relief and the shoddy construction that led to so much damage.
The boy, Ferhat Tokay, was put in a neck brace and taken on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance after being rescued in Ercis, the town hardest hit by Sunday's 7.2 magnitude quake, television images showed.
"We started digging and at first we saw his hand. And then we started speaking to him. He said 'I am hungry and thirsty'," an exhausted but elated medic, Baris Dogan, told Reuters.
"It was like taking my own son out."
Doctors at the hospital in Van, where he was taken, said the boy's condition was relatively good. A few steps away in the intensive care unit, relatives of other quake victims broke down in tears as doctors gave them bad news about their loved ones.
Tokay was rescued from the first floor of a collapsed seven-story block of flats where he lived with his family on the main street in Ercis, opposite a mosque whose minarets had collapsed.
Around 50 people dug on through the rubble in the hope of finding more people alive. As many as 10 were still missing from the building but there were no immediate signs of life.
Tokay was rescued hours after an 18-year-old man was brought out late on Thursday to cheers among grief-stricken quake survivors.
Homeless complain over slowness of relief items
People left homeless by the quake in the predominantly Kurdish eastern province of Van have complained bitterly over the slow delivery of relief items like tents.
Drenched by pouring rain, more and more are falling sick, and with the first winter snows expected in November there is an urgent need to get people under cover fast.
A doctor in Van told Reuters his hospital had received 700 patients suffering cold-related problems on Thursday alone. Many people were also treated for anxiety.
Although search operations are beginning to wind down, 187 people have been found alive under collapsed buildings since the quake struck on Sunday afternoon, according to an official count.
The Disaster and Emergency Administration said on Friday the death toll had risen to 573, with 2,608 people hurt in Turkey's biggest quake in more than a decade.
No official figures were available for the homeless.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies put the number of "affected people" at 50,000.
In Ercis alone, a town of around 100,000 people, hardly anyone was going back to their homes even if they were still standing.
President Abdullah Gul announced that parades and receptions for Republic Day on Saturday were canceled, and went on to bemoan poor construction and lack of inspections in Turkey that led to a "problem of shoddy buildings."
"While the Van earthquake has reminded us of the reality that ours is a country prone to earthquakes, it has also shown the destruction caused by neglect and irresponsibility," he said.
Accusations of profiteering, political favoritism
Two or three tent cities have sprouted on the outskirts of Ercis, but thousands of men, having settled children and women as best they can, wander at night looking for shelter.
With nowhere to go, they lean against walls to protect themselves from the rain.
Some survivors, who had stood in long queues only to be told there were no tents left, accused officials of handing aid to supporters of the ruling AK party. Others said profiteers were hoarding tents and reselling them.
Scuffles broke out in one long line to a distribution center, before police stepped in to calm tempers.
Any accusations of neglect or ineptitude can be politically sensitive.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan visited the area hours after the quake and wants to build bridges with Turkey's minority Kurds and is expected to go again at the weekend.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in a Kurdish separatist insurgency in the region that has lasted three decades. Last week militants killed 24 troops in neighboring Hakkari province.
Foreign aid is finally requested, received
A government that had thought it could manage the relief effort alone is now gratefully accepting foreign help in the shape of tents, prefabricated housing and containers.
The first foreign planeloads of tents arrived on Thursday.
In total 35,000 tents have been sent to the region.
Unable to meet demand, relief authorities in the provincial capital Van decided to hand out tents to people only after verifying their homes were too unsafe to return to.
The disaster administration said that out of some 10,000 damaged buildings assessed so far, half were uninhabitable.
People fear their homes have become deathtraps, as 1,139 aftershocks have rattled the area since the quake.
Vainly trying to dry linen and blankets after the rain, one mother was ready to be persuaded to quit her tent and go home out of a mixture of desperation and resignation.
"Last night, it rained and all our belongings are still wet. I don't know how many more days we can stay in a tent like this," the woman, who gave her name as Nimet, told Reuters, pointing at the block where she lived near the center of Van.