Earthquake In Turkey: Rescuers use bulldozers to shovel dead

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The Independent Online
THIS WAS death on an industrial scale. There were so many bodies that they needed bulldozers to dig the graves. And even then, given the speed at which the corpses kept arriving, they could barely manage to get them into the ground quickly enough.

The old cemetery set in the steep hills above the town of Golcuk was small and neatly marked off by a metal fence. Across the countless graves marked with nothing more than a plank on which had been scratched a name and the date 17 August 1999, an old woman stood alongside a freshly filled hole, beating flat the soil with a small piece of wood.

Remziye Demirkiron is 61 years old. She had just buried her teenage granddaughter and now she was waiting to bury her daughter and son-in-law in the two empty holes that lay side by side.

"I have been crying for four days," she said, "and now there is nothing to do."

Even the way the rescuers are now working has changed. No longer are they picking through the rubble, carefully moving away pieces of concrete with their hands, each few steps punctuated with a pause to listen for shouts from those who may be trapped. Instead bulldozers and cranes are now pulling and tugging at the huge slabs of the shattered buildings, knowing that there is little to be gained from trying to not disturb the pile.

Once they were rescuers, now they are little more than labourers shovelling the rubble, shovelling the dead. This was certainly the case in Golcuk, a town of about 65,000 people on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara and the site of the most intense devastation. The epicentre of the earthquake was just a few miles out to sea from here, and caused huge waves and flooding. More than 200 Turkish naval officers died when the quake struck their base in the town.

Yesterday the centre of Golcuk was a picture of chaos and despair. Men and machines shouted and clattered in the dust and heat as they struggled to clear the collapsed buildings.

Elsewhere scores of now homeless people lay camped out in the park, dependent on emergency rations, blankets and other supplies that were being handed out from a conference centre in the town that has been set up as an emergency headquarters.

In an eerie echo of the wars of this dying century, everyone, down to the smallest children, seemed to have a mask strapped to their face.

"What are the chances of anyone coming out alive? They are very low," said Dirim Nasuhogullari, a business consultant with PriceWaterhouse Coopers in Istanbul who travelled to Golcuk to help. "If I was to give you a more business-like answer I would say that the chances are close to zero." Mr Nasuhogullari was shaking. Just moments earlier he had pulled from the rubble the body of a man. It was, he said, "rotting and in pieces".

A few yards away the man's wife was sitting on a kerb, wailing her grief as she stared at her husband's corpse, now wrapped in a white sheet and bound with chicken wire.

Nazife Sahin said the body of her husband, Ahmet, had been recovered from a collapsed commercial building at the bottom of which had been a bakery. She had last seen him alive when he left for work in the early hours of Tuesday morning. He was the baker.

Yesterday morning, corpse after corpse was being recovered and wrapped in makeshift shrouds of filthy blankets and torn sheets. Every few minutes a different truck or car would speed past, its horn blaring, the back loaded up with bodies.

From the chaos of Golcuk's town centre most were being taken in one direction - up the steep hill where they were awaited by the bulldozers and the soft brown earth.

"What is important right now is that the bodies be recovered from underneath the ruins so that microbes from the corpses do not spread," said Dr Senol Ergunsay at the town'shospital. And there were signs that the industrial scale of burying was perhaps keeping a new cause of death at bay.

Dr Wolff Pierre, a French volunteer, said: "There is no cholera here. What we expect to see are dysentery, diarrhoea and gastro-enteritis. In the villages we have seen 20 to 30 cases of dysentery."

Given the summer heat and the lack of facilities to preserve the corpses, volunteers across north-west Turkey are having to bury thousands of victims they cannot identify.

The country's Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, has ordered the burial parties to photograph the corpses of unidentified victims to help relatives to trace their remains at a later date. And as the rubble is cleared from more and more buildings, so the confirmed death toll is rising rapidly.

Yet the worse is still, perhaps, to come. The rescue groups and volunteers at countless disaster sites know that after four days trapped underground, for anyone to be pulled out alive would be a miracle.

But still lying, broken, under the rubble are many more bodies than have yet been recovered from it.

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