(AP) — Rescuers pulled several people alive from the shattered remnants of buildings on Friday, some who survived more than 100 hours trapped under crushed concrete in the bitter cold after a catastrophic earthquake slammed Turkey and Syria, killing more than 20,000.
The survivors included six relatives who huddled in a small pocket under the rubble, a teenager who drank his own urine to slake his thirst, and a four-year-old boy offered a jelly bean to calm him down as he was shimmied out.
But the flurry of dramatic rescues — some broadcast live on Turkish television — could not obscure the overwhelming devastation of what Turkey’s president called “the disaster of the century.” Entire neighbourhoods of high-rise buildings have been reduced to twisted metal, pulverised concrete and exposed wires, and the magnitude 7.8 quake has already killed more people than Japan’s Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, with many more bodies undoubtedly yet to be recovered and counted.
Four days after the earthquake hammered a sprawling border region that is home to more than 13.5 million people, relatives wept and chanted as rescuers pulled 17-year-old Adnan Muhammed Korkut from a basement in Turkey’s Gaziantep, near the quake’s epicentre. He had been trapped there for 94 hours, forced to drink his own urine to survive.
“Thank God you arrived,” he said, embracing his mother and others who leaned down to kiss and hug him as he was being loaded into an ambulance.
For one of the rescuers, identified only as Yasemin, Adnan’s survival hit home hard.
“I have a son just like you,” she told him after giving him a warm hug. “I swear to you, I have not slept for four days. … I was trying to get you out.”
In Adiyaman, meanwhile, rescue crews pulled four-year-old Yagiz Komsu from the debris of his home, 105 hours after the quake struck. They then turned to trying to reach his mother, according the HaberTurk television, which broadcast the rescue live. The crowd was asked not to cheer or applaud to avoid scaring the child, who was given a jelly bean, the station reported.
Elsewhere, HaberTurk television said rescuers had identified nine people trapped inside the remains of a high-rise apartment block in Iskenderun and pulled out six of them, including a woman who waved at onlookers as she was being carried away on a stretcher. The crowd shouted: “God is Great!” after she was brought out.
The building was only 600 feet (200 metres) from the Mediterranean Sea and narrowly avoided being flooded when the massive earthquake sent water surging into the city centre.
There were still more stories: A German team said it worked for more than 50 hours to pull a woman alive from the rubble of a house in Kirikhan. In the hard-hit city of Kahramanmaras, two teenage sisters were saved, and video of the operation showed one emergency worker playing a pop song on his smartphone to distract them.
And the work continued: One trapped woman could be heard speaking to a team trying to dig her out in video broadcast by HaberTurk television. She told her would-be rescuers that she had given up hope of being found — and prayed to be put to sleep because she was so cold. The station did not say where the operation was taking place.
Even though experts say trapped people can live for a week or more, the chances of finding survivors in the freezing temperatures are dimming.
Still, the rescues Friday provided fleeting moments of joy and relief amid the misery and hardship gripping the shattered region where morgues and cemeteries are overwhelmed and bodies lie wrapped in blankets, rugs and tarps in the streets of some cities.