More than 45,000 people have been killed in the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria and the toll is expected to soar, with some 264,000 apartments in Turkey destroyed and many still missing as rescuers listen for signs of life under the rubble.
Twelve days after the quake hit, workers from Kyrgyzstan tried to save a Syrian family of five from the rubble of a building in Antakya city in southern Turkey.
Three people, including a child, were rescued alive. The mother and father survived but the child died later of dehyrdration, the rescue team said. One older sister and a twin did not make it.
“We heard shouts when we were digging today an hour ago. When we find people who are alive we are always happy,” Atay Osmanov, a member of the rescue team, told Reuters.
Ten ambulances waited on a nearby street that was blocked to traffic to allow the rescue work.
Workers asked for complete silence and for everybody to crouch or sit as the teams climbed further up to the top of the rubble of the building where the family was found to listen for any more sounds using an electronic detector.
As rescue efforts continued one worker yelled into the rubble: “Take a deep breath if you can hear my voice.”
Workers later stopped the search operations as excavators arrived and climbed up the rubble to begin clearing it.
The death toll in Turkey stands at 39,672 from the quake, the country’s worst modern disaster, while neighboring Syria has reported more than 5,800 deaths. Syria’s toll has not changed for days.
While many international rescue teams have left the vast quake zone, domestic teams continued to search through flattened buildings on Saturday hoping to find more survivors who defied the odds. Experts say most rescues occur in the 24 hours following an earthquake.
Medics and experts voiced concerns over the possible spread of infection in the area where thousands of buildings collapsed last week leaving sanitation infrastructure damaged.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Saturday that although there had been a rise in intestinal and upper respiratory infections, the numbers did not pose a serious threat to public health, adding that measures have been taken to monitor and prevent possible disease.
“Our priority now is to fight against the conditions that can threaten public health and to prevent infectious diseases,” Koca told a news conference in southern Hatay province.
Hakan Yasinoglu, in his 40s, was rescued in Hatay 278 hours after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck in the dead of night on Feb. 6, the Istanbul Fire Brigade said.
Earlier, Osman Halebiye, 14, and Mustafa Avci, 34, were saved in Turkey’s historic city of Antakya, known in ancient times as Antioch. As Avci was carried away, he was put on a video call with his parents, who showed him his newborn baby.
“I had completely lost all hope. This is a true miracle. They gave me my son back. I saw the wreckage and I thought nobody could be saved alive from there,” his father said.
Aid organizations say the survivors will need help for months to come with so much crucial infrastructure destroyed.
In neighboring Syria, already shattered by more than a decade of civil war, the bulk of fatalities have been in the northwest, an area controlled by insurgents who are at war with President Bashar al-Assad – a conflict that has complicated efforts to aid people affected by the earthquake.
Thousands of Syrians who had sought refuge in Turkey from the civil war have returned to their homes in the war zone – at least for now.
Neither Turkey nor Syria have said how many people are still missing following the quake.
For families still waiting to retrieve relatives in Turkey, there is growing anger over what they see as corrupt building practices and deeply flawed urban development that resulted in thousands of homes and businesses disintegrating.
One such building was the Ronesans Rezidans (Renaissance Residence), which keeled over in Antakya, killing hundreds.
“It was said to be earthquake-safe, but you can see the result,” said Hamza Alpaslan, 47, whose brother had lived in the block. “It’s in horrible condition. There is neither cement nor proper iron in it. It’s a real hell.”
Turkey has promised to investigate anyone suspected of responsibility for the collapse of buildings and has ordered the detention of more than 100 suspects, including developers.
The United Nations on Thursday appealed for more than $1 billion in funds for the Turkish relief operation, and has launched a $400 million appeal for Syrians.