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Teachers, teen pulled from Turkey quake rubble

Two teachers and a student were rescued from building rubble in eastern Turkey, three days after a earthquake, but searchers said hopes of finding others alive were rapidly fading.
/ Source: news services

Two teachers and a university student were rescued from ruined buildings in eastern Turkey on Wednesday, three days after a devastating earthquake, but searchers said hopes of finding anyone else alive were rapidly fading.

NTV television said 25-year-old teacher Seniye Erdem was pulled out around the same time that rescue workers also freed another teacher. The woman was thirsty and asked about her husband, who had died, it said.

Excavators began clearing debris from some of the collapsed buildings in Ercis after searchers removed bodies and determined there were no other survivors, as health officials warned of increase in cases of diarrhea, especially among children.

"At the moment, we don't have any other sign of life," said rescuer Riza Birkan. "We are concentrating on recovering bodies."

The quake that struck eastern Turkey on Sunday has killed at least 461 people. Desperate survivors fought over aid and blocked aid shipments while a powerful aftershock ignited widespread panic that triggered a prison riot in a nearby provincial city.

Gozde Bahar, a 27-year-old English-language teacher was pulled out of a ruined building on Wednesday with injuries some 67 hours after the 7.2-magnitude quake. Her mother watched the rescue operation in tears. The state-run Anatolia news agency said her heart stopped at a field hospital but doctors managed to revive her.

Earlier, rescuers also pulled out 18-year old university student Eyup Erdem, using tiny cameras mounted on sticks to locate him. They broke into applause as he emerged from the wreckage after being trapped for 61 hours.

'Appeals were not heeded'
Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said 63 teachers were among the dead and he alleged that shoddy construction contributed to the high casualty toll. He compared the alleged negligence of some officials and builders to murder because they ignored safety standards.

"Despite all previous disasters, we see that the appeals were not heeded," Erdogan said.

People wait to take a tent for their family early morning after a powerful earthquake rocked eastern Turkey, in Ercis, Van province, Turkey, 26 October 2011. Turkish Prime Ministry Disaster & Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) said that on 24 October, the death toll became 432 while the number of injured people was 1,352, adding that 2,262 buildings were demolished.Tolga Bozoglu / EPA

He acknowledged problems in sending aid for thousands of people who were left homeless, but said close to 20,000 tents have since been sent to the quake zone. Turkey has said it will accept prefabricated homes and containers from other countries to house survivors, many of whom have slept in the open in near-freezing temperatures for three nights.

"There was a failure in the first 24 hours, but in such situations such shortcomings are normal," Erdogan said. "There may not be sufficient equipment in depots at the start, but these have (now) been resolved with equipment from other depots."

The quake destroyed one school and Turkish engineers were making sure other schools were safe or rendering them fit to resume lessons. Some 800 students at that school in Ercis were probably saved because the quake hit on a Sunday.

'Really bad nightmare'
Health Ministry official Seraceddin Com said some 40 people were pulled out alive from collapsed buildings on Tuesday.

They included a 2-week-old baby girl brought out half-naked but alive from the wreckage of an apartment building 48 hours after the quake. Her mother and grandmother were also rescued, but her father was missing.

Survivors being treated at a hospital in the provincial capital Van told of their ordeal while waiting to be rescued.

"We were holding our breath, we were thirsty. At some point we saw rescuers working to remove rubble. They said, 'Hold on for five minutes, we will get you out of there.' But they didn't rescue us that day," Omer Yildiz told Reuters.

"It was a nightmare, a really bad nightmare. I still can't believe how I bore staying there for 33 hours. It turns out I am really patient."

The pockets of jubilation over finding survivors were however, tempered by many more discoveries of bodies by thousands of aid workers.

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 block.

"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.

On Wednesday, health officials said they had detected an increase in diarrhea, especially among the children, and urged survivors to drink bottled water until authorities can determine whether the tap water may be contaminated.

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.

Rain fell in the region Tuesday, with expectations that the first winter snow would fall soon.

The 7.2 magnitude quake, Turkey's most powerful in a decade, is one more affliction for Kurds, the dominant ethnic group in impoverished southeast Turkey, where more than 40,000 people have been killed in a three-decade-long separatist insurgency.

"There is absolutely no coordination, you have to step on people to get a tent," said jobless 18-year-old Suleyman Akbulut.

Foreign help accepted
With thousands left homeless or too afraid to return to damaged houses, Turkey said it would accept international aid offers, even from Israel, with which it has had strained relations. The country said it would need prefabricated homes to house survivors during the winter. Israel offered assistance despite a rift between the two countries over last year's Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed nine Turkish activists.

Some 2,000 buildings collapsed and some 1,350 people were injured. The fact that the quake hit in daytime, when many people were out of their homes, averted an even worse disaster.

Close to 500 aftershocks have rattled the area, according to Turkey's Kandilli seismology center. A strong aftershock on Tuesday sent residents rushing into the streets in panic while sparking a riot that lasted several hours by prisoners in the city of Van, 55 miles south of Ercis. The U.S. Geological Survey put that temblor at a magnitude of 5.7.

Prisoners in a jail in Van rioted Tuesday because they feared they would be crushed in their cells when a 5.4 magnitude aftershock struck and spread panic out on the streets.

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 Aysel Tugluk.

Turkey lies in one of the world's most active seismic zones and is crossed by numerous fault lines. In 1999, two earthquakes with a magnitude of more than 7 struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people.

Istanbul, the country's largest city with more than 12 million people, lies in northwestern Turkey near a major fault line, and experts say tens of thousands could be killed if a major quake struck there.