Rescuers raced against the clock Saturday to save people buried under rubble as hundreds spent a terrified night in tents after a powerful earthquake claimed 27 lives in Turkey and Greece.
The 7.0 magnitude quake killed 25 people and injured 804 on Turkey’s western coast after it struck Friday afternoon, with its epicentre off the coastal town of Seferihisar in Izmir province.
Also killing two teenagers on their way home from school in Greece, it caused a mini-tsunami on the Aegean island of Samos and a sea surge that turned streets into rushing rivers in one Turkish coastal town.
In Bayrakli, Turkish families and friends looked on in agony, exhaustion and hope as workers painstakingly went through the rubble of two buildings which were completely flattened by the quake.
Just five minutes across town, worried crowds watched as a black bag was taken away from another collapsed building in the early hours of Saturday.
“Let me see who it is!” one man shouted.
In small green spaces close to the damaged buildings, the municipality set up large white tents for the survivors while the health ministry’s medical rescue teams offered smaller tents for frightened families.
Throughout the night, hot soup and water were available for those waiting outside as the temperature fell.
Azize Akkoyun watched as the rescuers worked.
“Those curtains, they belonged to my daughter’s in-laws,” Akkoyun told AFP, as she waited for news.
“We will wait all night. God willing they will come out alive,” she said, adding they were unable to reach them by phone.
– ‘We’re helpless’ –
Residents said Bayrakli, with a population of more than 300,000, was a fast-developing district with new buildings popping up on the outskirts of the Aegean resort city of Izmir.
A few steps away, the smashing of concrete, heavy machinery and dust filled the air except for the moments when everything stopped in the hope of hearing a longed-for call for help from a survivor.
As Cemalettin Enginyurt, 51, and his family settled inside their white tent, he described feeling “helpless”.
The retired soldier said his family’s home suffered “serious” cracks and he feared people being unable to tell if their homes were fit to return to.
“As it currently is and with the risk of aftershocks, we decided the solution was to stay outside. Izmir has a mild climate, we’ll be alright in the short term but we’re not sure about the long term,” he said.
Hope grew that more survivors could be found following reports in state media of a 53-year-old and 62-year-old rescued some 17 hours after the quake.
The government’s disaster agency AFAD said 100 people have been pulled out alive.
The latest disaster will renew fears over when Istanbul will be hit by a big earthquake after the devastating 7.4-magnitude one in 1999 in Izmit, western Turkey.
Some 17,000 people died then, including 1,000 in Istanbul.
This is the second powerful earthquake to hit Turkey this year, after one in the eastern city of Elazig killed more than 30 people in January.
– ‘Extremely tense’ –
According to the government’s disaster agency, 743 of those injured were in Izmir with the rest in nearby Aydin, Manisa and Balikesir provinces.
The earthquake was felt as far away as Athens and Istanbul.
There were 470 aftershocks following the quake including 35 that were above four in magnitude, AFAD reported.
Nermin Yeni, 56, was at home cooking when disaster struck. “I quickly went outside, I collapsed,” Yeni said outside a tent in a park because she could not return to her home.
A family nearby burned what they could in a metal can to keep themselves warm. Some were not so fortunate and slept in only a sleeping bag outside or huddled in their cars.
Describing the moment the quake hit, Huseyin Sarac said he and his family were “extremely tense, everyone was crying.”
When he spoke to AFP, he was looking for another tent for the family with the first already full with his mother, father, uncle and sisters.