Earthquake In Turkey: Rescue Efforts - International teams to join the desperate searching

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The Independent Online
TURKEY WAS a nation of desperation caught in arc lights last night. Thousands of rescuers scrabbled through the ruins, stopped, called for silence from the waiting relatives and neighbours , listened out, willed some sound to come and then dug on.

Right across the country's devastated industrial heartland, the scene was repeated as pickaxe, shovel and sledgehammer were brought to bear on the slabs of concrete that had interred alive thousands as they slept.

As Turkey mobilised whatever it could, a huge international aid and rescue operation was getting under way. British teams were among the first in the air as 50 British rescuers left for Turkey last night to help in the search for those trapped in the rubble.

Twenty-seven firefighters from brigades in Cheshire, Leicestershire, Wales and the west Midlands joined 13 search and rescue specialists from the International Rescue Corps on the 9.30pm flight.

They will be deployed to the quake zone as soon as possible as part of a huge international response to an appeal for help from the Turkish authorities. Teams from Switzerland, the US, Japan, France, Bulgaria and Germany were also on the way, plus a special team from Turkey's traditional protagonist, Greece.

The British team members are all skilled in search and rescue techniques, and include paramedics, welders, mechanics and drivers as well as firefighters. They took equipment including thermal imaging cameras, videoprobes, lighting and cutting tools.

Simon Webb, a spokesman for the UK fire service search and rescue team, said: "They are flying from Gatwick to Istanbul. They will be briefed on the plane, and get some sleep, then it's off to work as soon as the sun rises. They have a variety of skills between them and some of them have worked in Montserrat after the volcano, Macedonia on humanitarian relief, and after earthquakes in Kurdistan and Mexico.

"They will be working on the technical rescues, the ones for which more technical equipment is needed, two to four days after the earthquake."

The 13 specialists from the charity International Rescue Corps are all volunteers and include two women.

The Gloucester-based charity Rapid UK sent a team of 10 men and two dogs to Istanbul last night after offering its services through the British embassy in Ankara.

One of the first places rescuers will be heading is Golcuk, a naval town about 80 miles south-east of Istanbul and near the quake's epicentre. As many as 10,000 people may still be trapped, according to the mayor, Ismail Baris.

In Golcuk yesterday, people desperately waved addresses of their collapsed homes and ran after a handful of motorised cranes in town, pleading for help. Some refused to lose hope, digging with their bare hands, hour after hour. Others gave up in despair. And many blamed local officials and the military for failing to give them the help they needed to save hundreds of buried victims.

Mahir Eryilmaz dug for 12 hours to try to free his nephew. When a crane finally arrived, its reach was too short. So were the ladders of the fire brigades fighting a nearby blaze.

In the Avcilar district on the impoverished fringe of Istanbul, a boy cried out from the warrens of cracked concrete slabs and splintered plaster that was once his home: "Help me! I'm still alive."

Survivors wailed for those who perished when buildings shook, then entombed sleeping families. Trucks and excavators rumbled as they peeled away debris. Rescue workers carted away corpses and tried to listen for any signs of life.

"I'm here!" the boy yelled again. A worker touched his hand. "Oh, thank you," sobbed six-year-old Memet Arsuglou. Soon he was free, weeping and hugging his mother.

Nearby, a woman tried to pry away a wall of cement blocks that she believed covered the room of her baby daughter. She eventually gave up and pounded her fists on the remains of her home. "No, no, no!" she yelled. "Why God? Why?"

In many places, cries for help from the rubble spurred on rescuers. But there were too few of them to search all the wrecked buildings.

"My loves, my children are there, my 15-year-old son and my daughter. But no one is fighting to save them," screamed Gulser Onat at the debris of the family apartment in Golcuk. Who knows if the international rescue teams will get there in time to save them.

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