By Justin Spike, Abdelrahman Shaheen And Suzan Frazer in Antakya
Rescue teams in Turkey on Saturday pulled to safety a family of five who survived inside their collapsed home for five days following a major earthquake in a sprawling border region of Turkey and Syria. The death toll, however, was approaching 25,000.
They first extricated mother and daughter Havva and Fatmagul Aslan from among a mound of debris in the hard-hit town of Nurdag, in Gaziantep province, HaberTurk reported. The teams later reached the father, Hasan Aslan, but he insisted that his other daughter, Zeynep, and son Saltik Bugra be saved first.
Then, as the father was brought out, rescuers cheered and chanted “God is Great!”
The dramatic rescue after 129 hours brings to nine the number of people rescued Saturday, despite diminishing hopes amid freezing temperatures. They included a disoriented 16-year-old and a 70-year-old woman.
“What day is it?” Kamil Can Agas, the teenager who was pulled out of the rubble in Kahramanmaras, asked his rescuers, according to NTV television.
Members of the mixed Turkish and Kyrgyz search teams embraced each other, as did the teenager’s cousins, with one of them calling out: “He is out, brother. He is out. He is here.”
The rescues brought shimmers of joy amid overwhelming devastation days after Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake collapsed thousands of buildings, killing more than 24,000 people, injuring another 80,000 and leaving millions homeless. Another quake nearly equal in power and likely triggered by the first caused more destruction hours later.
Rescue workers in the Turkish city of Antakya carried Ergin Guzeloglan, 36, to an ambulance after they pulled him out from a collapsed building on Saturday.
Not everything ended so well, however. Rescuers reached a 13-year-old girl inside the debris of a collapsed building in Hatay province early on Saturday and intubated her. But she died before the medical teams could amputate a limb and free her from the rubble, Hurriyet newspaper reported.
Even though experts say trapped people can live for a week or more, the odds of finding more survivors were quickly waning. Rescuers were shifting to thermal cameras to help identify life amid the rubble, a sign of the weakness of any remaining survivors.
As aid continued to arrive, a 99-member group from the Indian Army’s medical assistance team began treating the injured in a temporary field hospital in the southern city of Iskenderun, where a main hospital was demolished.
One man, Sukru Canbulat, was wheeled into the hospital in a wheelchair, his left leg badly injured with deep bruising, contusions and lacerations.
Wincing in pain, he said he had been rescued from his collapsed apartment building in the nearby city of Antakya within hours of the quake on Monday. But after receiving basic first aid, he was released without getting proper treatment for his injuries.
Hospitals in Antakya, he said, were overburdened, and he had come to the Indian field hospital in Iskenderun to finally address his injuries.
″I buried (everyone that I lost), then I came here,’’ Canbulat said, counting his dead relatives: “My daughter is dead, my sibling died, my aunt and her daughter died, and the wife of her son” who was 8 1/2 months pregnant.
Temperatures remained below freezing across the large region, and many people have no shelter. The Turkish government has distributed millions of hot meals, as well as tents and blankets, but is 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 of people 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 United Nations said the first earthquake-related aid convoy crossed from Turkey into northwestern Syria on Friday, the day after an aid shipment planned before the disaster arrived.
The U.N. refugee agency estimated that as many as 5.3 million people have been left homeless in Syria. Sivanka Dhanapala, the country representative in Syria for UNHCR, told reporters Friday that the agency is focusing on providing tents, plastic sheeting, thermal blankets, sleeping mats and winter clothing.
President Bashar Assad and his wife have visited injured quake victims in a hospital in the coastal city of Latakia, a base of support for the Syrian leader.
Syrian state TV said Assad and his wife Asma on Saturday morning visited Duha Nurallah, 60, and her son Ibrahim Zakariya, 22, who were pulled out alive the night before from under the rubble of a building in the nearby coastal town of Jableh, five days after the earthquake.
A day earlier, Assad toured the northern city of Aleppo.
Shaheen reported from Latakia, Syria. Fraser reported from Ankara. Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Ghaith Alsayed in Bab al-Hawa, Syria, contributed.
Banner image via The Associated Press