A RESCUE worker tends to Ayda Gezgin after she was pulled out alive from the rubble of her collapsed building on Tuesday.—AP
A RESCUE worker tends to Ayda Gezgin after she was pulled out alive from the rubble of her collapsed building on Tuesday.—AP

BAYRAKLI: A three-year-old girl was pulled from rubble on Tuesday, 91 hours after a powerful earthquake hit western Turkey, offering a ray of hope for grieving families as the death toll soared past 100.

But only hours after Ayda Gezgin was miraculously recovered in the hard-hit town of Bayrakli, rescuers found the lifeless body of her mother Fidan, 38, in the same room of their destroyed apartment, Turkey’s IHH Islamic charity said.

Rescuers and families have been riding waves of emotion, from profound grief to elated relief, depending on whether bodies or survivors are extracted from the broken slabs of highrise buildings levelled by Friday’s 7.0-magnitude quake.

The quake, felt as far away as Athens, killed two teenagers on their way home from school on the Greek island of Samos, where some homes collaped.

But most of the damage struck in and around Turkey’s Aegean resort city of Izmir, where the death toll reached 107 on Tuesday.

None of the Turkish coastal towns were hit harder than Bayrakli, a residential district dotted with seven- and eight-floor apartment buildings, dozens of which were either damaged or completely destroyed.

The tragedy and sheer joy felt by the Gezgin family within a matter of hours encapsulates the emotions tearing apart Izmir and the entire country as Turkey recovers from its biggest disaster in years.

Rescuers, exhausted but determined on their fourth day of round-the-clock work, were zeroing in on four buildings where they felt they still could find someone alive.

They broke out in applause and shouts of “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is Greatest”, the moment they realised they had rescued Ayda.

“We have witnessed a miracle in the 91st hour,” Izmir mayor Tunc Soyer tweeted.

“The miracle’s name is Ayda,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted moments later.

“With your smiling eyes, you have inspired new hope for us. Thank God. Get well soon, my lovely little one.”

The rescue came a day after a four-year-old and a 14-year-old were found alive in the same district, providing encouragement to rescue workers, despite persistent fears of aftershocks.

Ayda called for her mother as she was taken to a waiting ambulance in a gold foil blanket, a correspondent at the scene said.

The Milliyet daily said her mother had returned home from taking the girl out to the neighbourhood park just 10 minutes before disaster struck.

Her father, who survived, was not at home at the time of the quake.

“Slowly, slowly,” the rescue workers told each other as they pulled the mother’s body from the wreckage.

Hours earlier, many of the same people were hugging each other and crying tears of joy, realising they had saved a little girl who looked remarkably unharmed and completely calm.

“I asked her: Are you okay? I was curious to see if she was alright. She asked for ayran,” said rescue worker Ahmet Celik, referring to the salty yoghurt drink.

“I told her the ayran would come later,” he said, laughing. “She loves ayran.” Rescuers said they realised someone was still alive at the site on Monday night, before painstakingly working to reach her.

“It was a child’s, a female voice,” said fellow rescue worker Ibrahim Topal. “My friend Ahmet saw the hand, and when we opened (the space) a bit more, Ayda’s face.” Topal said the girl was discovered in the kitchen, in a small space created by the oven and other white goods.

“From the moment we heard her sound, it didn’t matter how tired we were. It gave us energy again,” he said. “We were so happy.” Turkey has reported over 1,500 repeat tremors following the quake, including 44 that were above four in magnitude.

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2020

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