Earthquake In Turkey: The Aftermath - Final death toll could reach 20,000 Rescuers in appalling race to reach thousands buried alive in the ruins

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TEAMS OF exhausted rescuers were preparing to work through a second night to reach as many as 10,000 people still missing in north-western Turkey. Some estimate that the death toll could eventually reach 20,000.

Government figures put the confirmed death toll from Tuesday's massive earthquake and its aftershocks at nearly 3,900 people with a further 16,000 injured.

But in the searing August temperatures of Anatolia and Thrace there were fears that thousands more people trapped under the tons of steel and concrete of collapsed buildings would die of dehydration or suffocation before rescuers and survivors, many tearing at the masonry with their bare hands, could get to them.

In the naval base town of Golcuk, about 80 miles to the south-east of Istanbul, many of the town's shattered buildings had not been checked 36 hours after the disaster and the mayor, Ismail Baris said that up to 10,000 people of a total population of 80,000 could still be trapped under rubble.

A huge fire raged at Turkey's biggest oil refinery near Izmit, the city nearest the epicentre of the quake, and an explosion was heard despite claims by officials that they were getting the better of the blaze. The Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, called the fire the biggest danger caused by the disaster.

Six tanks at the refinery were reported to be ablaze. Their smoke cast a dark shadow over the area,where people struggled to cope with the aftermath of the earthquake.

Firefighting planes from Turkey and foreign allies were dousing the flames at the Tupras refinery, but witnesses said the fire had spread since midday yesterday. There were heartbreaking scenes as people living near the refinery were forcibly evacuated, protesting that members of their families were still trapped in the rubble of their collapsed houses.

As the death toll mounted by the hour, morgue facilities were overwhelmed. In Izmit, where close to 1,000 people are believed to have died, rows of bodies wrapped in blood-stained towels and garish blankets lined an ice rink.

Friends and family, holding handkerchiefs to their noses to ward off the overpowering stench, walked among the bodies, searching for loved ones.

A thick steam enveloped the closed rink, produced by a melding of bodies and ice. Young army cadets in fatigues, wearing plastic gloves and sterile white face masks, wheeled in the newly arrived bodies on red metal stretchers.

Trucks and cars carrying more victims, sometimes piled on top of each other, poured into the car park. The town's hospital did not escape the devastation. Patients and medical staff were still trapped last night under collapsed concrete and were believed to be dead.

All day yesterday foreign aid was pouring into Turkey from dozens of countries, including Britain. Even Cyprus, which has no diplomatic relations with Turkey, offered assistance.

Earthquake experts from Japan, armed with the special equipment to detect the presence of living people under the rubble, were among those who flew in to Istanbul. Nearly 1,300 foreign rescue workers had arrived by last night.

The quake measured 7.4 on the Richter scale - higher than originally thought. Aftershocks measuring up to five were being felt yesterday morning, more than 24 hours after the initial shock.

Makeshift medical centres were set up on street corners and in ruined buildings. On virtually every street of Golcuk, apartment buildings had pancaked while at the naval base, the barrack buildings had been flattened.

But there were some minor miracles in the town, including the dramatic rescue of a small boy from the ruins of his flattened home.

"I saw lots of dreams in there. It was so dark." Akin Sirnen, six, said after rescuers pulled him from the ruins of the house where he had been trapped for nearly 36 hours. Akin's mother father and sister remained buried below.

Rescuers worked in scorching heat, sweating heavily as they toiled with picks and sledgehammers.

Seven of Turkey's affected provinces have been declared a disaster zone.