2,000 feared dead in quake that hit sleeping oil-town

FROM PHILIPPA FLETCHER

of Reuters

Neftegorsk - As many as 2,000 people were feared dead after a powerful earthquake flattened this town in Russia's Far East, crushing people in buildings as they slept.The full toll will not be known for at least a week.

"I recognised my mother by her dress and my brother by his long underwear," said Irya Golovchinka, 17, sitting by a campfire beside the long, straight piles of ruins. The concrete rubble, illuminated by rescue workers' floodlights, is all that remains of the 19 blocks of flats which made up Neftogorsk, a small oil town on the island of Sakhalin.

The ground still trembles from time to time as Irya tries to remember the earthquake which orphaned her and her 14-year-old brother Sasha early on Sunday morning. "I did not hear anything," Irya said. "I just felt air beneath my feet and then I fell.

"I managed to drag myself out, but my mother and father were buried. My mother was unrecognisable. She was burnt," she said, tears breaking through for the first time.

Irya, Sasha and their friend 16-year-old Lena Russkikh, sleep in piles of blankets and anoraks near a fire which does little to keep off the cold night wind. They still seem to be in shock from the tragedy which struck their town and talk about the deaths and disappearances, for the most part, in a matter-of-fact way.

"I am going to stay here until they pull my parents out, alive or dead," said Lena, who was visiting a friend in another block when the quake struck. "When it started I thought 'Wow, an earthquake', then a slab fell on my head and then a door and then I was trapped.

" My friend Olga died," she said. "I lay there for ages. All around there were people crying out 'help' and 'save me' and then I heard the helicopters. I shouted out and they came and pulled me out."

There were 28 pupils in Irya's class. "Nine or 10 of them are in there," she said, pointing at the piles of rubble where rescue workers are still at work, pulling out bodies and shouting at those still alive underneath.

"My husband, my children, my grandchildren are still inside there," wailed one elderly woman with heavily bandaged hands. "I will wait here until they bring them out, whether they are dead or alive."

A crane lifted a slab of concrete to reveal a couple lying in bed. They must have died instantly, because they looked as if they were asleep, apart from blood on their foreheads. Further down the same pile of rubble, a rescue worker threaded a length of rubber hose through broken concrete, twisted metal, and crushed belongings. "Take hold of the end and we will pour some water down," he shouted.

Almost 3,500 people lived in this windswept, sandy settlement in the north of Sakhalin, some 4,500 miles and eight time zones east of Moscow, on an island so remote and inhospitable it was used by the tsars as a place of exile. For two days helicopters have stirred up the sand on the streets as doctors, rescue workers and equipment arrive from as far as Moscow. "After Chernobyl and Armenia, this is the worst disaster the former Soviet Union has ever seen," said the Emergencies Minister, Sergei Shoigu. An earthquake in Armenia killed 25,000 people in 1988.

The Russian authorities launched a major disaster relief operation. Planes and helicopters were ferrying in food, clothing and medical supplies, but thick ice off Sakhalin meant that a hospital ship would not be able to get to the disaster site for four days. Both Japan, just south of Sakhalin, and South Korea offered to help, but Lieutenant-General Nikolai Loktyonov of the emergencies ministry said that Russia did not need aid. "We have 300 professional Russian rescue workers in the zone plus defence ministry specialists. There is no need for foreign rescuers to come to Sakhalin," he said.

Minister Shoigu said Seventies construction in Neftegorsk reflected the then prevalent belief that the region was not part of an earthquake zone. Homes built after 1972 were more strongly built, he said.

Altogether 55,000 people lived in the region in the remote north of Sakhalin island hit by the earthquake. But it was Neftegorsk, close to the epicentre, that took the brunt.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game