Family of 5 spent more than 100 hours in rubble of Turkey’s earthquake. They emerged alive

Family of 5 spent more than 100 hours in rubble of Turkey’s earthquake. They emerged alive

Ibrahim Zakaria lost track of time drifting in and out of consciousness while trapped for nearly five days in the rubble of his home, following the massive earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria this week.

The 23-year-old cellphone shop worker from the Syrian town of Jableh survived on dirty drips of water and eventually lost hope that he’d be saved.

“I said I am dead and it will be impossible for me to live again,” Zakaria, who was rescued Friday night, told The Associated Press on Saturday from his bed at a hospital in the coastal city of Latakia where his 60-year-old mother, Duha Nurallah, was also recovering.

Five days after two powerful earthquakes just hours apart caused thousands of buildings to collapse, killing more than 28,000 people and leaving millions homeless, rescuers were still pulling unlikely survivors from the ruins.

Although each rescue elicited hugs and shouts of Allahu akbar!— “God is great!” — from the weary men and women working tirelessly in the freezing temperatures to save lives, they were the exception in a region blanketed by grief, desperation and mounting frustration.

Families emerge alive

More than a dozen survivors were rescued Saturday, including a 7-month-old boy in Antakya and a family in Kahramanmaras, the Turkish city closest to the epicentre of Monday’s quake. Crews there helped 12-year-old Nehir Naz Narli to safety before going back for her parents.

A person holds a photo as rescuers search for survivors amid destroyed buildings in Nurdagi, Turkey, in the hard hit region of Gaziantep, on Saturday, five days after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the border region of Turkey and Syria. (Zein al Rifai/AFP/Getty Images)

In Gaziantep province, which borders Syria, a family of five was rescued from a demolished building in the city of Nurdagi and a man and his 3-year-old daughter were pulled from debris in the town of Islahiye, television network HaberTurk reported. A 7-year-old girl was also rescued in Hatay province.

In Elbistan, a district in Kahramanmaras province, 20-year-old Melisa Ulku and another person were saved from the rubble 132 hours after the quake struck. Before she was brought to safety, police asked onlookers not to cheer or clap so as not to interfere with nearby rescue efforts.

Turkish TV station NTV reported that a 44-year-old man in Iskenderun, in Hatay province, was rescued 138 hours into his ordeal. Crying rescuers called it a miracle, with one saying that they weren’t expecting to find anyone alive but as they were digging, they saw his eyes and he said his name. In the same province, NTV also reported that a baby boy named Hamza was found alive in Antakya 140 hours after the quake. Some details of his rescue, including how he survived so long, weren’t immediately clear.

WATCH | CBC News crew captures dramatic rescue live:

On the front line of a deadly earthquake | The Breakdown

The CBC’s Briar Stewart and Chris Brown take us to the front lines of the rescue efforts in Turkey to talk about the next steps in the mission and what support could come from Canada.

Not every attempt ended happily. Zeynep Kahraman, who was brought out of the rubble after a spectacular rescue that took 50 hours, died at the hospital overnight. The ISAR German team who rescued her were shocked and saddened.

The rescues came amid growing frustration over the Turkish government’s response to the earthquake, which has killed 24,617 people and injured at least 80,000 people in Turkey alone.

Members of a rescue team work at the site of a collapsed building in Hatay, Turkey, on Saturday, as the search for survivors from Monday’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria continues. (Kemal Aslan/Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged earlier in the week that the initial response was hampered by the extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure that made it difficult to reach some points. He also said the worst-affected area was 500 kilometres in diameter and was home to 13.5 million people in Turkey alone.

That has meant rescue crews have had to pick and choose how and where to help.

During a tour of quake-damaged cities Saturday, Erdogan said a disaster of this scope was rare and again referred to it as the “disaster of the century.”

But the challenges facing aid efforts were of little comfort to those waiting for help.

Scouring for survivors

In Antakya, the capital of Hatay province, scattered rescue crews were still hard at work but many residents had left by Saturday. Among those who stayed were people with family still buried. Many of them had been camping in the streets for days and sleeping in cars.

Rescuers work with a rescue dog as the search for survivors continues in the aftermath of Monday’s deadly earthquake, in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, on Saturday. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Acting on a tip, a 60-person rescue team from Hong Kong found three survivors under a building near the city’s centre on Saturday, said Gallant Wong, the group’s spokesperson.

But Bulent Cifcifli, a local man, said he has been waiting for days for crews to pull his mother’s body from her collapsed home. Rescuers were working to retrieve her body at one point, but they were called to another location because they suspected there were survivors.

Yazi al-Ali, a Syrian refugee who came to Antakya from Reyhanli, has been living in a tent as she waits for crews to find her mother, two sisters, including one who was pregnant, and their families. At one point, she stood over the rubble of the home in Antakya’s old city centre where she believes her pregnant sister was buried and, in a cracking voice, shouted her sister’s name, “Rajha!”

“No one is answering to us, and no one comes to look,” she said. “They have stopped us from looking ourselves. I don’t know why.”

Even though experts say trapped people can live for a week or more, the odds of finding more survivors were quickly waning amid the frigid temperatures. 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 brought into the hospital in a wheelchair, his left leg badly injured with deep bruising, contusions and lacerations.

Canbulat said he had been rescued from his collapsed apartment building in the nearby city of Antakya within hours of the quake. But after receiving basic first aid, he was released without getting proper treatment for 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.

Makeshift graveyard

A large makeshift graveyard was under construction on the outskirts of Antakya on Saturday. Backhoes and bulldozers dug pits in the field on the northeastern edge of the city as trucks and ambulances loaded with black body bags arrived continuously. Soldiers directing traffic on the busy adjacent road warned motorists not to take photographs.

A worker with Turkey’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, who did not wish to be identified because of orders not to share information with the media, said that about 800 bodies were brought the cemetery on Friday, its first day of operation. By midday on Saturday, he said, as many as 2,000 had been buried.

People are shown at a cemetery as they bury their loved ones, victims of Monday’s earthquake, in Adiyaman, Turkey, on Friday. (Emrah Gurel/The Associated Press)

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 UN refugee agency estimated that as many as 5.3 million people have been left homeless in Syria.

The opposition Syrian Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets, said Saturday that it “is almost impossible to find people alive.”

The death toll in Syria’s northwestern rebel-held region has reached 2,166, according to the rescue worker group the White Helmets. The overall death toll in Syria stood at 3,533 on Saturday, though the 1,387 deaths reported for government-held parts of the country hasn’t been updated in days.

A man sits Saturday on a collapsed building in the rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

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