ERCIS, Turkey — After 48 hours, a miracle emerged from a narrow slit in rubble of a Turkish apartment building: a 2-week-old baby girl, half-naked but still breathing.
Stoic rescue workers erupted in cheers and applause at her arrival — and later for her mother’s and grandmother’s rescues — a ray of uplifting news on otherwise grim day.
The bad news just kept on coming Tuesday: The death toll from Sunday’s 7.2-magnitude earthquake climbed to at least 459, desperate survivors fought over aid and blocked aid shipments, and a powerful aftershock ignited widespread panic that turned into a prison riot in the provincial city of Van.
With thousands of quake survivors facing a third night out in the open in near-freezing temperatures, Turkey set aside its national pride and said it would accept international aid offers, even from Israel, with which it has had strained relations as of late.
The dramatic operation to save three generations in one family was all the more remarkable because the infant, Azra Karaduman, was later declared healthy after being flown to a hospital in Ankara, the Turkish capital.
“Bringing them out is such happiness. I wouldn’t be happier if they gave me tons of money,” said rescuer Oytun Gulpinar.
Television footage showed rescuer Kadir Direk in an orange jumpsuit wriggling into a pile of broken concrete and warped metal — what was left of a five-story apartment building — and then wriggling out with tiny Azra, clad only in a T-shirt.
“Praise be!” someone shouted. “Get out of the way!” another person yelled as the aid team cleared a path to a waiting ambulance.
In a separate rescue, 10-year-old Serhat Gur was pulled from the rubble of another building after being trapped for 54 hours, but he died later at a hospital, state-run TRT television reported.
The pockets of jubilation were tempered by many more discoveries of bodies in the worst-hit town of Ercis and other communities in eastern Turkey devastated by Sunday’s earthquake. Some 2,000 buildings collapsed, but the fact that the tremor hit in daytime, when many people were out of their homes, averted an even worse disaster.
Over 500 aftershocks have since rattled the area, according to Turkey’s Kandilli seismology centre. A strong one on Tuesday sent residents rushing into the streets in panic while sparking a riot by prisoners in Van, 90 kilometres south of Ercis. The U.S. Geological Survey put that temblor at a magnitude of 5.7.
Some prisoners in Van demanded to be let out while others set bedding on fire, the private Dogan news agency reported. The revolt then spread inside the 1,000-bed prison and security forces surrounded it to keep more inmates from escaping.
Turkish military vehicles shot water cannon at crowds in the streets of Van to try to calm the situation.
There was still no power or running water in the region, and desperate people stopped aid trucks even before they entered Ercis, grabbing tents and other supplies. Kanal D television showed people fighting over tents and blankets.
Aid workers said they were able to find emergency housing for only about half the thousands of people who needed it.
Turkey decided to accept offers of assistance after its emergency management authorities decided that thousands of survivors would need prefabricated homes to get through the winter in the mountainous region, a Turkish foreign ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with ministry rules.
Israel offered assistance despite a rift between the two countries over last year’s Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed nine Turkish activists.
Aware of the widespread misery, President Abdullah Gul cancelled a reception to mark the 88th anniversary of the founding of the republic on Saturday.
At least 1,352 people were injured in the quake, TRT television said late Tuesday. At least nine people were rescued Tuesday, although many more bodies were discovered.
The rescued baby’s mother, Semiha, and grandmother, Gulsaadet, were huddled together, with the baby clinging to her mother’s shoulder when rescuers found them, Direk told The Associated Press. Hours after the infant was freed, the two others were pulled from the large, half-flattened building and rushed to ambulances to new cheers. The mother had been semiconscious, but woke up when rescuers arrived, Direk said.
Firefighters and rescuers ordered silence while they listened for noise from other possible survivors in the collapsed apartment block, parts of which were being supported by a crane. But workers could not find the baby’s father and there were no other signs of life, Direk said.
Direk was chosen for the rescue because he was thinnest and could squeeze through the narrow corridor that workers had drilled.
He chatted with the mother while trying to get her out, at one point jokingly asking her to name the baby after his own son, Cagan.
“She replied that the baby was a girl, and that she wanted her named Azra,” he said.
Gerald Rockenshaub, disaster response manager at the World Health Organization, said the first 48 to 72 hours are crucial for rescues and the chances of finding survivors decreases significantly after that. People can survive without food for a week or so but having access to water was critical, he said.
It was not clear if her mother was able to breast-fed Azra, but Rockenshaub said if she was able “to keep the baby warm by using her own body, that would be good enough.”
Earlier, 9-year-old Oguz Isler was rescued along with his sister and cousin, but he waited anxiously at the same pile of debris that used to be his aunt’s apartment block for news of his parents or other relatives buried inside.
Turkish rescue workers in bright orange overalls and Azerbaijani military rescuers in camouflage uniforms searched through the debris, using excavators, picks and shovels. Dogs sniffed for possible survivors.
“They should send more people,” Oguz said as an elder cousin comforted him.
Mehmet Ali Hekimoglu, a medic, said the dogs indicated that there were three or four people inside but it was not known if they were alive.
Oguz was trapped in the building’s third-floor stairway as he tried to escape when the quake hit. A steel door fell over him.
“I fell on the ground face down. When I tried to move my head, it hit the door,” he said. “I tried to get out and was able to open a gap with my fists in the wall but could not move my body further.”
He said they shouted for help, and were pulled out over eight hours later.
Turkey lies in one of the world’s most active seismic zones and is crossed by numerous fault lines. In 1999, two earthquakes with a magnitude of more than 7 struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people.
Istanbul, the country’s largest city with more than 12 million people, lies in northwestern Turkey near a major fault line, and experts say tens of thousands could be killed if a major quake struck there.