An aerial view shows a tent city set up by the Turkish government at a stadium after the earthquake in Izmir.—Reuters
An aerial view shows a tent city set up by the Turkish government at a stadium after the earthquake in Izmir.—Reuters

BAYRAKLI: Rescue workers were searching eight wrecked buildings on Sunday amid dwindling hope for survivors as the death toll from a powerful earthquake which hit western Turkey rose to 69.

The 7.0-magnitude quake also injured 940 people, the Turkish emergency authority AFAD said, after it struck on Friday afternoon near the west coast town of Seferihisar in Izmir province.

More than 200 people were in hospital, the authority said.

The worst affected Turkish town was Bayrakli, where anxious families in thick blankets spent a second night in tents, preparing for a third.

Others watched nervously as rescue workers went through the debris for a second day, including in a residential area where three buildings’ lower floors collapsed, killing an unknown number.

There was desperation and overwhelming fear among families outside one collapsed building, with men and women in tears including a rescue worker whose eyes welled up, caught on video by local media.

“How else can we be? We’re in a bad state,” said a worried Ethem, who had been waiting for three days for news of his courthouse colleague’s family including two children and their mother.

“We’re waiting for a miracle,” he said in front of a collapsed building three days after the quake.

A teacher whose sister and her two children including a four-year-old were underneath was too upset to speak.

“We haven’t heard any news yet. We’re just here. God willing they will be rescued safely,” Seyfi Ozsoy said, after coming from the central province of Afyonkarahisar to provide moral support to the waiting family.

“We’re hopeful despite everything,” another family friend, Salih Kose, said.

Nearly 6,000 rescuers have been working day and night since Friday, mechanical diggers helping them remove blocks of concrete.

Periodically, the rescue work has been halted and everyone kept silent to listen for signs of survivors trapped in the rubble.

Bayrakli mayor Serdar Sandal, of the main opposition party, said over 100 people were rescued from collapsed buildings as he vowed the municipality would work tirelessly to support citizens and meet their needs.

Thousands of tents have been set up in parks nearby and in recreation areas in Bayrakli and the nearby town of Bornova as well as an old football stadium since officials warned residents to avoid returning to their homes.

One of those in the stadium was Ismail Energin, 73, who was in one of around 200 tents set up in the area.

“Earthquakes often happen here but it was one the like of which I’ve never experienced before,” he said.

He was more prepared than most, however, ensuring that furniture and the television in his home was fixed to stop them falling in the event of a quake.

“And it worked, nothing broke,” he said, adding he hoped he could return home after the aftershocks but was told it could be up to 15 days before that was possible.

Elsewhere in the stadium, children drew pictures of their homes and the tents provided by AFAD as volunteers kept them occupied with toys.

Everything from soup to yeast fritters, water to pizza, were provided by local municipalities across Turkey, while teams were on hand to provide psychological support.

Hurriyet daily, citing local district reports, said two of the buildings where rescue efforts are concentrated were in poor shape in 2012 and 2018 respectively, with “low quality concrete” used to build them.

The newspaper said the “damning” report on one building clearly assessed it was “at risk” based on earthquake safety requirements and advised that “necessary measures” be taken to increase safety.

The second building had apparently had work done to strengthen the structure, the daily added.

Vice President Fuat Oktay said nearly 300 buildings were damaged although most were only slightly affected.

Asked about concerns over construction, Bayrakli mayor Sandal said that it was too early to comment before the reality of the situation was clear.

Turkey has reported over 800 aftershocks following the quake, including 40 that were above four in magnitude.

Two teenagers on their way home from school were also killed in Greece, as the quake caused a mini-tsunami on the Greek island of Samos and a rush of water from the sea that turned streets into rivers in one Turkish town.

Friday’s earthquake was so powerful it was felt as far away as Istanbul and Athens. The disaster has prompted Greece and Turkey to put aside their differences and work together to help those affected.

The quake is Turkey’s deadliest so far this year, Turkish website HaberTurk noted. One in January killed more than 40 people in the eastern provinces of Elazig and Malatya.

Turkey has been the scene of repeated earthquakes that have caused massive destruction, including the huge earthquake measuring more than 7.0 magnitude centred on the western city of Izmit in 1999 which killed 17,000 people, including around 1,000 in Istanbul.

There have been fears over future disasters and how prepared Turkey is, although since 1999 Ankara has applied tougher rules on building safety and insurance.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2020



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