Haaretz Special Report: Turkey Rescue Teams Still Pulling Earthquake Survivors From Rubble

Search and Rescue Association operations officer tells Haaretz that rescue efforts are proceeding 'slowly', and that evacuation efforts will continue in the coming days; 2-week-old baby among those rescued.

Thousands of rescue workers were still working Tuesday to evacuate people from tens of collapsed buildings in the town of Arjish, the area hardest hit by the earthquake which struck eastern Turkey two days earlier.

The death toll in the earthquake rose to 432 on Tuesday, with 1,352 people injured, the Disaster and Emergency Administration said in a statement.

The Van region was also hit by a 5.4 magnitude aftershock on Tuesday, Turkey's Kandilli Observatory said.

Ozgur Monkul, operations officer for the international AKUT Search and Rescue Association told Haaretz on Tuesday that “naturally rescue efforts are proceeding slowly, but we are still successfully finding survivors under buildings, and we will continue with our efforts in the coming days.”

According to Monkul, hundreds of houses in the surrounding villages have collapsed, although such incidents pose less of a difficulty for rescue teams, as most houses are built out of clay and mud.

One rescue team member told Haaretz that his team was able to reach four people who were trapped under a four story building. According to him, one of the four was already dead by the time the team arrived.

Although media reports regarding the 7.2 earthquake focused mainly on the city of Van, the largest district in eastern Turkey, the city sustained relatively light damage. Aside from the Sapa apartment building in the center of the city which collapsed earlier on Tuesday, most of the city’s buildings are still standing.

Turkey evacuations - Reuters - October 2011

“Patience, patience”, cried rescue workers in to a teenage boy in Arjish as they attempted to evacuate him from under large concrete blocks. From under the rubble, an adult male’s hand could be seen, a ring still visible on his finger. Elsewhere, a photojournalist bumped into a woman and her daughter who were rescued from under the rubble of large concrete blocks, which used to be part of a six story building.

Meanwhile, a 14-day-old baby was rescued alive from the rubble, 46 hours after the earthquake struck.