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As earthquake death toll rises, a frantic rescue effort transfixes Turkey

By Kareem Fahim and Zeynep Karatas,

Ismail Gokmen AP

Rescue workers who were trying to reach survivors in the rubble of a collapsed building in Izmir, Turkey, on Sunday leave the area as the adjacent building at the right started moving.

ISTANBUL — Turkish rescue workers were racing to free dozens of people still trapped in several collapsed apartment buildings Sunday, two days after a deadly earthquake in the Aegean Sea rattled coastal cities in Turkey and islands in Greece.

The Turkish death toll rose Sunday to 64, according to the country’s disaster management agency, bringing the overall death toll to 66. Two teenagers on the Greek island of Samos were killed Friday, the day of the earthquake, when they were crushed by a collapsing wall.

In Turkey, rescue workers in the city of Izmir were concentrating their search for survivors in the decimated remains of at least eight buildings, according to the disaster management agency. Since Friday, at least 104 people have been rescued, Turkish health minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Twitter.

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The rescue operation has transfixed Turkey. News channels and social media outlets are carrying live streams of backhoes shifting concrete, tales of impossible rescues along with pictures of the missing and the dead.

The temblor was the latest in a series of calamities to befall Turkey in the past year: In addition to the coronavirus and a severe economic crisis, an earthquake in January killed 41 people and a series of avalanches weeks later killed 38, including rescue workers.

A photograph of Arda Baran Demir, a 17-year-old boy from a village in eastern Turkey, posing with a parakeet on his arm, has circulated widely on Twitter, in an expression of collective grief. Demir, who had won a scholarship to study in a private school in Izmir, died in the quake, according to the local governor of his hometown.

Emrah Gurel

AP

Rescue workers search the debris of a collapsed building in Izmir for survivors.

There was no word yet on the fate of two young siblings, Sayra Alpgunduz and her twin brother, Cinar Alpgunduz, who were trapped somewhere under the rubble of the Riza Bey Apartments, according to the Sabah newspaper. Pictures of the pair posing together — clowning during a meal or standing in a garden, dressed for a formal event — have circulated widely.

One survivor from the Riza Bey apartments, Ahmet Citim, 70, was barely conscious when rescue workers found him in the debris early Sunday, 33 hours after the earthquake.

[Death toll rises in powerful Aegean earthquake as Turkish rescuers race to find survivors]

“When we first went to him, he wasn’t speaking,” Ali Faruk Balkan said in a televised interview. After rescue workers cleared some debris, Citim’s face appeared and he began to utter words.

“At that moment, we lost our professionalism and lost ourselves with joy,” Balkan said.

A video posted by Koca showing the rescue of 16-year-old Ince Okan, who was trapped along with her dog, has been viewed nearly 2 million times. “Sister, can you hold my hand?” Okan asks Edanur Dogan, one of the rescuers. “Of course I can,” Dogan replied. The dog, named Peanut, was also brought out alive, and was staying in a dog hotel while Okan recovered in a hospital, local media reported.

Emrah Gurel

AP

People in Izmir watch rescue workers search for survivors.

By Sunday evening, rescuers believed that at least 20 survivors were still in the ruins of the Riza Bey Apartments, according to Burak Galip Akkurt, who works with AKUT, a nongovernmental search and rescue organization. Akkurt, who spoke in a telephone interview from atop the rubble, said no survivors had been extricated Sunday from a section where he and his team had been searching.

Making matters more difficult, he said, the search was suspended temporarily amid fears that a nearby building, destabilized by the initial 7.0 magnitude earthquake or one of hundreds of aftershocks, might also collapse.

The medical people say at 72 hours it becomes difficult,” he said, if trapped survivors do not have access to water, for instance.

“We are not at that stage yet,” he added. “We are still hoping.”

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Ismail Gokmen

AP

Rescue workers, who were trying to reach survivors in the rubble of a collapsed building, leave the area as the adjacent building at the right started moving, in Izmir, Turkey, on Nov. 1.