Miracle baby, mother emerges from Turkish quake rubble

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

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ERCIS, Turkey (AP) — After 48 hours, a miracle emerged from a narrow slit in the rubble of a Turkish apartment building: a two-week-old baby girl, half-naked but still breathing.

Stoic rescue workers erupted in cheers and applause at her arrival — and later for her mother's and grandmother's rescues — happy news on otherwise grim day when the death toll from Sunday's earthquake climbed to at least 432 and desperate survivors fought over aid.

The fact that three generations were saved in a dramatic operation was all the more remarkable because the infant, Azra Karaduman, was later declared healthy after being flown to a hospital in Ankara, the Turkish capital.

"Bringing them out is such happiness. I wouldn't be happier if they gave me tons of money," said rescuer Oytun Gulpinar.

Television footage showed rescuer Kadir Direk in an orange jumpsuit wriggling into a pile of concrete and metal — what was left from a five-storey apartment block -- and then wriggling out with the tiny Azra, clad only in a T-shirt.

Praise be!" someone shouted. "Get out of the way!" another person yelled as the aid team and bystanders cleared a path to a waiting ambulance.

In a separate rescue later yesterday, 10-year-old Serhat Gur was pulled from the rubble of another building after being trapped for 54 hours. He was wrapped in a blanket and taken to an ambulance on a stretcher, Turkish television showed.

The pockets of jubilation were tempered by many more discoveries of bodies by thousands of aid workers in the worst-hit city of Ercis and other communities in eastern Turkey struck by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake. Some 2,000 buildings collapsed, but the fact that the tremor hit in daytime, when many people were out of their homes, averted an even worse disaster.

Close to 500 aftershocks have since rattled the area, according to Turkey's Kandilli seismology centre, and one measuring 5.4-magnitude sent residents rushing into the streets in panic yesterday.

There was still no power or running water and aid distribution was disrupted as people stopped trucks even before they entered Ercis, grabbing tents and other supplies. Kanal D television showed people fighting over tents and blankets in some areas.

Aid workers said they were able to find emergency housing for only about half the thousands of people who needed it. Most of the damage was in Ercis, but many buildings were also damaged in the provincial capital, Van, about 55 miles (90 kilometres) to the south.

Authorities have warned survivors in the mainly Kurdish area not to enter damaged buildings and thousands were preparing to spend a third night outdoors, in cars or tents, in temperatures that were close to freezing.

Some 1,300 people were injured in the quake. At least nine people were rescued yesterday, although many more bodies were discovered.

The rescued baby's mother, Semiha, and grandmother, Gulsaadet, were huddled together, with the baby clinging to her mother's shoulder when rescuers found them, Direk told The Associated Press.

Hours after the infant was freed, the two others were pulled from the large, half-flattened building and rushed to ambulances as onlookers clapped and cheered. The mother had been semiconscious, but woke up when rescuers arrived, Direk said.

Firefighters and rescuers ordered silence while they listened for noise from other possible survivors in the large five-storey apartment block, parts of which were being supported by a crane. Workers could not find the baby's father and there were no other signs of life, Direk said.

Direk, from the western city of Izmir, was chosen for the rescue because he was thinnest and was able to squeeze through the narrow corridor that workers had drilled, according to NTV television.

He chatted with the mother while trying to get her out, at one point jokingly asking her to name the baby after his own son, Cagan.

"She replied that the baby was a girl, and that she wanted her named Azra," he said.

The Hurriyet newspaper reported that the family live in Sivas in central Turkey but were visiting the girl's grandparents in Ercis.

Gerald Rockenshaub, disaster response manager at the World Health Organization, said the first 48 to 72 hours are crucial for rescues and the chances of finding survivors decreases significantly after that. He said people can survive without food for a week or so but having access to water was critical, especially for the elderly and infants.

It was not clear if the mother was able to breast-feed Azra, but Rockenshaub said "if the mother was able to keep the baby warm by using her own body, that would be good enough."

Earlier, nine-year-old Oguz Isler was rescued along with his sister and cousin, but he waited anxiously yesterday at the same pile of debris that was his aunt's apartment block for news of his parents or other relatives buried inside.

Turkish rescue workers in bright orange overalls and Azerbaijani military rescuers in camouflage uniforms searched through the debris, using excavators, picks and shovels. Dogs sniffed for possible survivors in gaps that opened up as their work progressed.

"They should send more people," Oguz said as an elder cousin comforted him.

Mehmet Ali Hekimoglu, a medic, said the dogs indicated that there were three or four people inside the building, but it was not known if they were alive.

Oguz, his sister and a cousin were trapped in the building's third-floor stairway as they tried to escape when the quake hit. A steel door fell over him.

"I fell on the ground face down. When I tried to move my head, it hit the door," he said. "I tried to get out and was able to open a gap with my fists in the wall but could not move my body further. The wall crumbled quickly when I hit it."

"We started shouting: 'Help! We're here,"' he said.

They were pulled out over eight hours later.

"They took me out last because I was in good shape and the door was protecting me. I was hearing stones falling on it," the boy said. "I still have a headache, but the doctor said I was fine."

Hundreds of rescue teams from throughout Turkey rushed to the area, while Turkish Red Crescent dispatched tents and blankets and set up soup kitchens. But residents said more help was needed.

"The aid is coming in but we're not getting it. We need more police, soldiers," resident Baran Gungor said.

Tents were erected in two stadiums but many preferred to stay close to their homes for news of the missing or to ward off possible looters.

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 north-western Turkey, killing about 18,000 people.

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

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