ERCIS, Turkey (Reuters) - A fiance’s love saved 25-year-old teacher Gul Karacoban from being left to die under the rubble of a restaurant she was eating at when a deadly earthquake struck eastern Turkey.
Brought out alive on Monday along with two colleagues, after 18 hours pinned under a mound of concrete and masonry, she was stretchered into an ambulance while paramedics assured her desperate fiance she would be alright.
“All I want is for her to live, I don’t care if she injured or not. It doesn’t matter, I just want her alive,” air force Lieutenant Onur Eryasar told a Reuters photographer before climbing into the ambulance.
When the quake struck, Eryasar rushed from his base in Van to the town of Ercis some 100 km (60 miles) away to find Karacoban, and by talking with her friends and colleagues he learnt where she had gone to lunch.
Finding the restaurant in the dark, he shouted out her name. Hearing the voices of other people trapped in the collapsed building he persuaded one of the rescue teams to begin digging.
By late Monday morning his perseverance was rewarded as the young woman was carried out, alive and conscious.
At least 239 people died in Sunday’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the cities of Van and Ercis, but hundreds more were feared dead and trapped beneath collapsed buildings.
Elsewhere in Ercis, a town of 100,000, a rescue worker stepped carefully down the heap of dust and rubble that had once been an internet cafe, cradling a tiny boy of maybe three years old.
His neck protected by a brace, the boy was crying as he was carried in his rescuer’s arms to a waiting ambulance.
Another man emerged stunned, looking round in disbelief as he sat on the debris that he’d been buried under overnight in the bitter cold. Assisted down to the road, he stumbled away into the crowd.
A Reuters photographer saw a woman and her daughter being freed from beneath a concrete slab in the wreckage of a building that had once been six stories tall.
“I‘m here, I‘m here,” the woman, named Fidan, called out in a hoarse voice. Talking to her regularly while working for more than two hours to find a way through, the rescuers cut through the slab, first sighting the daughter’s foot, before finally freeing them.
They were alive, but their bodies were badly swollen. Four dead bodies were pulled from the same building.
Distraught relatives continued their vigil in quake-stricken towns and villages.
“SHE WAS ALIVE... SHE‘S WEARING RED PAJAMAS”
In Van, the provincial capital of 1 million people on the shores of Turkey’s largest lake, fewer buildings collapsed.
But the quake destroyed a seven-story apartment block, home to around 40 families.
“Our grief is huge. My uncle’s wife and her children are under the rubble,” said one woman watching heavy lifting machinery trying to remove the slabs of fallen concrete.
“All our houses are damaged. We are staying in the youth sports center,” she said, before breaking down in tears.
Another woman told Reuters her aunt and little cousin were buried somewhere in a concertina of concrete slabs. At another site a mother said her 24-year-old son, a veterinarian student, was also missing under the rubble.
Emergency workers from half a dozen rescue teams worked frantically to clear debris from a collapsed four-storey building that had housed eight apartments, fearful rising smoke meant there was a fire burning somewhere down below.
Nobody, either dead or alive, had been brought out of the wrecked building so far, though one woman told a rescue worker she had spoken to a friend, Hatice Hasimoglu, on her mobile phone six hours after the quake and she was trapped inside.
The 24-year-old pre-school teacher had been living on the first floor of the building.
“She called me to say that she’s alive and she’s stuck in the rubble near the stairs of the building,” said her friend, a fellow teacher. “She told me she was wearing red pajamas,” she said, standing with relatives begging the rescue workers to hurry.
Additional reporting by Omer Berberoglu and Osman Orsal in ERCIS and Seda Sezer in VAN; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Edited by Richard Meares