Family miracle lifts Turkish spirits
26 October 2011, 14:27
Ercis - As he wriggled free from the rubble, clasping tiny Azra Karaduman tight in his hands, Kadir Direk experienced a sense of euphoria in a city that has seen so much misery in recent days.
"I was the happiest person in the world when I held her," said Direk as he recounted his dramatic rescue of 16-day-old Azra from the ruins of her shattered home.
"My friends told me that I lost myself when I had the baby," added 35-year-old Direk, who was chosen to be sent into the depths of the rubble as he was the thinnest person in the team of 32 rescuers.
After Direk managed to bring Azra to the surface, he and his colleagues then turned their attentions to rescuing the infant's mother and 73-year-old grandmother. Their emergence from the debris triggered tearful applause and cheers from the awe-struck crowds in this town in Turkey's mainly Kurdish east.
Direk's team had spent 32 hours on the road to Ercis, driving from the west coast city of Izmir - a distance of some 1 400km.
"It was priceless to find someone alive and all my exhaustion is over," said Oytun Gulpinar, the leader of the team of rescuers who had arrived in Ercis after a 32-hour road journey from the western city of Izmir.
Azra, whose 24-year-old mother Seniha breast-fed her under the debris, was rushed to hospital in Ercis before an air ambulance flew her to Ankara.
Seniha and Azra's grandmother Gulzade also needed treatment after becoming severely dehydrated.
The rescuers believe that Azra's father is still under the rubble, although they have no indication as to whether he is alive or not.
The rescue of the three family members raised the hopes for other people who were desperately waiting in front of the pile of rubble which was once a two-storey apartment block before the ground began to shake beneath it on Sunday afternoon.
There were similar scenes at other parts of the town where relatives refused to give up hope despite the mounting death toll which has now climbed to 432.
"This was a six-storey apartment, with a cafe on the ground floor and flats above it," said teacher Adem Kostekci as he stood outside a twisted mound of masonry.
"My uncle is still down there [in the cafe] and we cannot do anything. He only came in to play dominos."
Kostekci said he believed that his uncle was alive.
"There are survivors here. I remember 1999, people were saved after four days," he said, recalling the major quake 12 years ago in northwestern Turkey which killed more than 20 000 people.
While the rescue work continued round the clock, locals who managed to flee their homes in time were sifting through the wreckage to rescue whatever property they could salvage and head off potential looters.
Under the supervision of a police officer and after verifying their address, one family could be seen retrieving a scarf and a wall-clock.