Scores of them packed listening equipment and caged their body-sniffing dogs for the trip home after the Turks said they could deal with the remainder of the emergency operation themselves.
Some of the rescuers agree their work is done, as the main task now is recovery and disposal of bodies. Last night the total number of dead recovered from the rubble stood at more than 12,000 but UN officials in Geneva said Turkey had asked for 45,000 body bags. Many rescuers feel, however, that they could still find survivors. The discovery of two more, including Ismail Cimen, the toddler, reinforced such feelings.
"We were forced to leave. There was a meeting with the local governor and he said there was so much disease that we should leave," said Laslo Pavelcze, leader of the Hungarian Special Rescue Team, which found seven survivors. "We don't understand it. All of our members have had inoculations against diseases they are talking about. All the international groups in Adapazari [east of Istanbul] got together last night and we agreed we wanted to stay but we were told we could not. We believe that if we had been allowed to stay where we were we could have saved another 50 people. We are very disappointed."
Many believe the decision to ask international teams to leave is political. The Health Minister, Osman Durmus, was criticised after he reportedly said Turkey had no need of "doctors, nurses, blood, medicine or ambulances. We have no need of foreign doctors who are unused to our customs."
This last comment was a reference to Italian doctors who had complained there were no clean toilet facilities for them. "My people are washing in the sea. There are plenty of mosques with toilets in them but they say they are dirty. Should I, as the Health Minister, come and clean the toilets for them?"
Many Turks involved in the operation were confused by Mr Durmus's comments. An official in Istanbul said: "In Istanbul the work is finished but I am sure that in the other cities like Izmit they still need the international teams."
Some members of Turkey's coalition government accept that it could have been better prepared to deal with the quake. The Tourism Minister, Erkan Mumcu, said: "This earthquake is a declaration of bankruptcy for the Turkish political and administrative system that lacks a city-planning policy."
The government now has to deal with up to 250,000 people left homeless and the threat of typhoid, cholera and dysentery. As the rescuers left, US Marines sailed into the Sea of Marmara but found little to do except ferry aid piling up at Istanbul airport.
US help - 2,100 Marines, four operating-rooms, 17 intensive-care beds and other equipment - arrived too late and was seen more as a gesture of American support for its Turkish ally.
At Heathrow airport last night Graham Payne, team co-ordinator of Rapid UK, which sent 11 men and two dogs, said the decision to pull out of Adapazari was not taken under duress. "All the aid agencies met with the Health Minister at Adapazari town hall and we were in agreement there was a great risk of a mass outbreak of disease. If we do not allow them to get on and disinfect the areas we could see more people killed by ... disease than those killed by the quake itself."Reuse content