In earthquake relief, noisy gears and excavations, then silence

ADANA, Turkey (AP) — They lifted concrete slabs with huge cranes and smashed rubble with jackhammers. Then, they stopped.


Key to detecting the faintest noise, which could be the sign of a survivor buried under rubble from Monday’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

In the rubble of a collapsed 14-story building in the Turkish city of Adana, the scream of a whistle pierced the noise every few minutes on Wednesday. Rescuers screamed for silence and listened for any hint of voices from the debris. Hundreds of people watching in silence.

During a moment of digging, volunteer Bekir Bicer discovered a crushed birdcage, he said. Inside was a blue and yellow bird, alive after nearly 60 hours.

“I was very happy. I almost cried,” Bicer said. “The cage was broken, but the bird was still inside.”

Friends and family of those trapped sat by the fires, waiting for a miracle even as the window of survival for those trapped under the rubble was closing.

Suat Yarkan, 50, said her aunt and her two daughters lived in an apartment on the fourth floor of the building. They would have been at home sleeping when the earthquake hit. He was desperate in the hope that they could be saved alive.

“Look at the bird. Sixty hours,” she said. “It makes me feel like maybe God is helping us…I have to believe they’ll all recover.”

Regular moments of silence are essential for such operations, said David Alexander, professor of emergency planning and management at University College London.

“We often find helicopters chattering overhead, making a huge noise and sometimes even kicking up dust as crews desperately try to listen for any kind of noise that might indicate someone alive and moving under the rubble,” he said.

Sophisticated rescue teams will use microphones to pick up faint noises, while specially trained dogs and fiber-optic cameras collect heat inside piles of debris. But given the need to move quickly and the limited number of rescue teams deployed in a huge area, cries for help are essential.

“If a person can get attention under the rubble, their chance of being saved is about three times higher than it would be if they were in a coma, statistically speaking,” Alexander said.

As the sun set on Wednesday for the third time over devastated cities and towns in Turkey and Syria, the push to recover survivors became more urgent as food and water shortages, the bitter cold and potential injuries became even more acute.

The prospects of finding survivors nearly three days after the quake are slim, experts say.

“The first 72 hours are considered critical as the condition of trapped and injured people can rapidly deteriorate and become fatal if they are not rescued and treated in time,” said Steven Godby, natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University . in England.

In Adana on Wednesday, rescuers from another collapsed building draped a white sheet over an indentation in the debris pile, obscuring the view of what they had discovered there.

The digging machines stopped and a stretcher was pulled behind the sheet as the workers watched in silence.

An ancient city of more than 2 million people just 20 miles (32km) from the Mediterranean Sea, Adana has experienced earthquakes before. A 6.3-magnitude quake in 1998 killed nearly 150 people in and around the city, leaving thousands homeless.

The strongest earthquake this week has left a large number of Adana’s buildings, many of them modern, seemingly intact. Many skyscrapers appeared entirely intact. However, on the northern edge of the city, several 14-story buildings collapsed.

As of Tuesday night, the Turkish government said 167 people had been killed by the Adana earthquake, with more still trapped under rubble. That was just a tenth of the deaths reported in devastated Hatay province, miles away.


Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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