British rescuers save mum and son trapped in earthquake rubble for 68 hours


ritish rescuers helped pull a mother and her son from the rubble of a collapsed building in Turkey 68 hours after the first devastating earthquake.

Dramatic images showed mother, Serap Topal, 33, and her five-year-old son, Mehmet Hamza Topal, being rescued by the German and British search teams from under the rubble in Kahramanmaras.

Rescuers were still pulling more survivors from beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings on Thursday, but hopes were starting to fade of finding many more people alive more than three days after the catastrophic earthquake and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria on Monday.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The death death toll has risen to more than than 15,000.

Emergency crews working through the night in the city of Antakya were able to pull a young girl from the ruins of a building and also rescued her father alive two hours later, news agency IHA reported.

In Diyarbakir, east of Antakya, rescuers freed an injured woman from a collapsed building in the early morning hours but found the three people next to her in the rubble dead, the DHA news agency reported.

In addition to 12,873 people killed in Turkey, the country’s disaster management agency said more than 60,000 have been injured. More than 2,900 people have been reported dead on the Syria side of the border.

Tens of thousands are thought to have lost their homes. In Antakya, former residents of a collapsed building huddled around an outdoor fire overnight into Thursday, wrapping blankets tightly around themselves to try and stay warm.

Serap Arslan said many people remained under the rubble of the nearby building, including her mother and brother. She said machinery only started to move some of the heavy concrete on Wednesday.

“We tried to clear the debris on our own, but unfortunately our efforts have been insufficient,” the 45-year-old said.

Selen Ekimen wiped tears from her face with gloved hands as she explained that both her parents and brother were still buried.

“There’s been no sound from them for days,” she said. “Nothing.”

Experts said the survival window for those trapped under the rubble or otherwise unable to obtain basic necessities was closing rapidly. At the same time, they said it was too soon to abandon hope.

“The first 72 hours are considered to be critical,” said Steven Godby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University in England. “The survival ratio on average within 24 hours is 74%, after 72 hours it is 22% and by the fifth day it is 6%.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the hard-hit province of Hatay on Wednesday, where residents have criticized the government’s efforts, saying rescuers were slow to arrive.

According to the disaster management agency, more than 110,000 rescue personnel were now taking part in the effort and more than 5,500 vehicles, including tractors, cranes, bulldozers and excavators had been shipped.


The task is monumental, however, with thousands of buildings toppled by the earthquake.

Erdogan, who faces a tough battle for reelection in May, acknowledged problems with the emergency response to Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake, but said the winter weather had been a factor. The earthquake also destroyed the runway at Hatay’s airport, further disrupting the response.

“It is not possible to be prepared for such a disaster,” Erdogan said. “We will not leave any of our citizens uncared for.” He also hit back at critics, saying “dishonorable people” were spreading “lies and slander” about the government’s actions.

The disaster comes at a sensitive time for Erdogan, who faces an economic downturn and high inflation. Perceptions that his government mismanaged the crisis could hurt his standing. He said the government would distribute 10,000 Turkish lira ($532) to affected families.

Teams from more than two dozen countries have joined the local emergency personnel in the effort. But the scale of destruction from the quake and its powerful aftershocks was so immense and spread over such a wide area that many people were still awaiting help.

The region was already beset by more than a decade of civil war in Syria. Millions have been displaced within Syria itself, and millions more have sought refuge in Turkey.

In Syria, aid efforts have been hampered by the ongoing war and the isolation of the rebel-held region along the border, which is surrounded by Russia-backed government forces. Syria itself is an international pariah under Western sanctions linked to the war.

The earthquake’s toll has already outstripped that of a 7.8-magnitude quake in Nepal in 2015, when 8,800 died. A 2011 earthquake in Japan triggered a tsunami, killing nearly 20,000 people.Around 70 members of the UK International Search and Rescue Team have arrived in Turkey to assist with the search operation as the death toll.

The team of volunteers, which included firefighters, medics, engineers and vets, was joined by crews from at least 24 countries.

UK International Search and Rescue team coordinator Mark Davey said it had taken a lot of organisation to get to Antakya, in the Hatay province, due to the amount of destruction caused to basic infrastructure.

“Transportation is very difficult here, so it took a lot of organisation to get enough vehicles to bring us,” he told the Associated Press.

“It took a long while to get a lot of the equipment over here on the vehicles, on buses. (We had) a lot of help from the local people as well – from bus companies.”

Mr Davey explained the crew would conduct an assessment of the destroyed area street by street before sending the information back to the rescue team’s command and control.

“The whole area has already been sectorised by our team and the other teams, (including) Italy (and) Istanbul – there’s many teams here. I believe there is 33 or 40 search and rescue teams here,” he said.

“We are logically going through the area. Street by street, gathering as much information as possible so we can send that back to our command and control, so we organise the teams to come back with specific tools and actually prioritise each of the areas.

“Hopefully, (we’ll) have some good news and get those people back and, repatriate, obviously with their loved ones, with their families.”

Another British aid worker assisting the search operation in Antakya had captured on his phone the incredible moment a nine-year-old girl was pulled uninjured from the rubble of her home where she had been trapped for 60 hours.

Atiqur Rahman, from Stoke-on-Trent, had been working for Global Relief Trust when the earthquake struck. He described the current situation in the southern Turkish city as “Armageddon”.

“Now it’s 64 or 65 hours since the earthquake, the chances of people coming out alive is very low,” he told the Daily Mirror.

“But you have these amazing cases where, because the buildings have collapsed layer by layer, people manage to get into gaps.

“There was some noise coming from this family under the rubble, and some relatives stood outside as they knew the family was there.

“When they were carried out they were conscious and moving, obviously traumatised, but physically they were unharmed. One of our guys carried them out and the girl was responding to him.”

Relief efforts have been hampered by damaged infrastructure, freezing winter temperatures and limited medical facilities.

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