Turkey rescue workers rejoice after 3-year-old girl is freed from quake's rubble
Turkish authorities say 106 people have been rescued from rubble since Friday's earthquake
When firefighter Muammer Celik reached a three-year-old girl trapped for three days under the rubble of a deadly earthquake in a Turkish coastal city, his heart sank. She was lying motionless, covered in dust, and he asked a colleague for a body bag.
But as Celik extended his arm to wipe her face, the child opened her eyes and grabbed hold of his thumb.
"That's where we saw a miracle," Celik of the Istanbul fire department's search-and-rescue team told The Associated Press, recounting Monday's operation 65 hours after the quake hit. The quake killed at least 93 people in Turkey and Greece.
It was the second dramatic rescue Monday after a 14-year-old was also pulled out alive. Onlookers applauded with joy and wept with relief at both scenes in the Turkish city of Izmir, where the vast majority of the deaths and nearly 1,000 injuries have occurred. Two teenagers also died and 19 people were injured on the Greek island of Samos, near the quake's epicentre in the Aegean Sea.
Celik, whose team was among several that travelled to Izmir, said he found Elif Perincek lying on her back between her bed and a closet in a space that was just big enough for her.
"At first I was very upset," he said. "Then I stretched out my hand to clean her face and she grabbed my thumb.… I froze because right before that moment, I had asked my team for a blanket and a body bag."
His voice breaking with emotion, he said: "This is a firefighter's joy."
220 still in hospital
The child spent nearly three full days in the wreckage of her apartment and became the 106th person to be pulled alive from the rubble. Her mother and two sisters — 10-year-old twins — were rescued two days earlier. Her six-year-old brother did not survive.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted that both Elif and 14-year-old Idil Sirin, rescued earlier, were doing well.
Rescue workers clapped in unison as Sirin was removed from the rubble, after being trapped for some 58 hours. Her eight-year-old sister, Ipek, did not survive, NTV television reported.
Elsewhere in Izmir, rescue workers scrambled to find more survivors and used listening devices to detect any signs of life.
"Can anyone hear me?" a team leader shouted, asking possible survivors to bang against surfaces three times if they could.
Officials said 220 quake survivors were still hospitalized in Turkey, and three of them were in serious condition.
There was some debate over the magnitude of the earthquake. The U.S. Geological Survey rated it 7.0, while Istanbul's Kandilli Institute put it at 6.9 and Turkey's emergency management agency said it measured 6.6.
The quake triggered a small tsunami that hit Samos and the Seferihisar district of Izmir, drowning one elderly woman. The tremors were felt across western Turkey, including in Istanbul as well as in the Greek capital of Athens. Hundreds of aftershocks followed.
Turkey has a mix of older buildings and cheap or illegal construction, which can lead to serious damage and deaths when earthquakes hit. Regulations have been tightened in light of earthquakes to strengthen or demolish buildings and urban renewal is underway in Turkish cities, but it is not happening fast enough.
On Monday, authorities detained nine people for questioning about six building collapses, including contractors and officials who approved plans, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Turkey sits on top of fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. In 1999, two powerful quakes killed some 18,000 people in northwestern Turkey. Earthquakes are frequent in Greece as well.