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Turkish rescuers still hope to find survivors in earthquake

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Scenes of hope and heartbreak play out in Antakya as rescue efforts continue a week after the catastrophic tremors that reduced much of this city to rubble. A body is carried in a yellow bag from a crater below the arm of a digger – a grim reminder that the chances of finding anyone alive are now significantly diminished.

In a quiet family cemetery near the city’s hospital, there are dozens of freshly dug graves. But among the wreckage, there is no time to mourn. As the bag is left on the pavement to be collected by family members, a Thai rescue team marches past to the next site.

Their leader Lerpong Suansang, 44, tells us they have recovered “many, many bodies” since arriving three days ago. “We still hope to find live victims,” he says. “We see the damage and feel so sad, and hope the Turkish people can recover.” We join the fearless team as they clamber up a mountain of broken concrete, boots slipping on layers of debris, to the unrecognisable remains of a house.

A family is adamant that three people cling to life below our feet and were heard pleading for help at 9am the previous day.

With slick efficiency, the specialists map out where each room stood before disaster struck and fetch listening equipment.

A solemn crowd of survivors, relief workers and soldiers gathers at the foot of the rocky heap, all eyes on the rescuers as they call for quiet. Weaving through the crowd, a toddler with his head and hand bandaged pauses to pet a rescue dog.

A relative gently scoops him up so not even his tiny footsteps break the silence. Under­standing, the boy raises an injured finger to his lips in a shushing gesture. Hopes surge as word spreads that radar equipment detected signs of life four metres below the surface.

But when we return hours later, we are told no one was found. The grieving family is furious that three rescue teams have now failed to recover their loved ones.

Like all the quake-hit cities we have passed through, the smell of smoke hangs in the air in Antakya, close to the Turkish-Syrian border.

Some streets feel like a ghost town but there are pockets of ­people living among the ruins in makeshift camps beneath homes that are no longer liveable.

Musa Bayor, 35, is picking through the remnants of his house, searching for jewellery that belonged to his wife. He tells us his 33-year-old sister Fatma was killed in the earthquake.

“She was pregnant and we were expecting a nephew in one week. Her eight-year-old daughter was also killed,” he says. “My house was destroyed in 10 seconds. I wish I had died and my sister had lived.” Musa’s nose and hands are covered in cuts from being trapped in the rubble and he struggles to find words to express his grief.

The Disasters Emergency Committee launches its earthquake appeal today.

The DEC brings together charities at times of crisis.

It is seeking to offer medical help, shelter, food, water, blankets and heaters. 

Salah Aboulgasem, in Turkey with Islamic Relief, said: “The priority is saving lives by clearing the rubble.”

How to donate    


Phone: 0370 60 60 610 

SMS: text SUPPORT to 70787 to donate £10. Other partners should use their text code from the DEC. 

Donate at any post office or send a cheque to: DEC Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal, PO Box 999, London EC3A 3AA. 

His wife and two daughters survived but are now traumatised. He re-enacts how his five-year-old desperately tried to hold up the walls of their trembling home. Musa says: “Everybody is running away from the city because we are expecting more aftershocks. It’s not just our house, our entire lives have been destroyed.”

The distraught father tells us aid took days to arrive due to damaged roads and airports, but he is glad to see the world rallying around Turkey. He adds: “This natural ­disaster is like a war, we are all coming together as one. This pain has no borders, no religion, no politics, no colour.”

Some roads have been rendered impassable after buildings on both sides collided, falling into one another like houses of cards.

Others have collapsed vertically – storeys crushed together like a stack of pancakes – or stand tilted at seemingly impossible angles.

One rust-red building has spilled its contents and rests at a 45-degree angle. A bus station has been turned into a temporary military base and armed police walk the streets, vigilant for anyone trying to loot broken homes or steal from aid vehicles. At a large market where buyers used to collect fresh fruit and vegetables, spilled produce rots on the road.

Huseyin Guler, 36, tells us his aunt and four children were killed. He is living in a tent with his wife Zubeyde, 31, and son Arda, seven.

Huseyin said: “There is no aid support where we are so even though I know it’s dangerous, I went to my house to get some blankets. We are still waiting for help.”

Zubeyde tells us her family is deeply saddened when they walk the ruined streets. They are grateful to be alive but haunted by thoughts of those who lost their lives and she adds: “We are very shocked. We still don’t understand what happened.”

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