Rescue workers pulled a child, a woman and two men alive from the rubble of buildings in Turkey, nearly 11 full days after devastating earthquakes struck the region. The massive 7.8 magnitude tremor and another powerful tremor nine hours later destroyed thousands of buildings in southern Turkey and northern Syria and killed more than 41,000 people.
In many places, rescue efforts have given way to salvage efforts, but remarkable stories of survival continue to emerge from the rubble.
The latest came overnight as rubble clearance teams in southern Turkey pulled Neslihan Kilic, a 29-year-old mother, from the rubble of the devastated town of Kahramanmaras. According to the independent news agency DHA, she had been detained for 258 hours. Then the police in Antakya found a 12-year-old boy alive in the rubble, from which they also recovered 17 bodies.
“Just when our hopes were over, we reached our brother Osman at 260,” police rescue team leader Okan Tosun told DHA, according to The Associated Press. Then, just an hour later, workers managed to reach two men beneath the crumbling remains of a collapsed hospital in Antakya.
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A man was rescued from rubble more than 261 hours after the earthquake struck Turkey
Mustafa Avci, one of those men, asked his rescuers if he could borrow a cell phone as soon as he emerged, still covered in dust.
He immediately called his brother to inquire about other family members.
“Did they all survive?” He can be heard being questioned by news crews in video footage. “Let me hear their voices.”
His wife gave birth to their child just hours before the earthquake struck, and she and the child escaped unharmed from the hospital they were in, which was damaged by the tremors.
Mustafa Avci, a man rescued from earthquake debris after 261 hours in Antakya, Turkey, meets his 12-day-old baby February 17, 2023 at the hospital where he is being treated. Sezgin Pancar/Anadolu Agency/Getty
Rescue and recovery efforts across the border in Syria have been even more arduous. The part of the country hit by the quakes is mostly on territory held by rebels in Syria’s attrition 12-year civil war, and it took days for dictator Bashar al-Assad’s government to agree two additional border crossings from Turkey to open humanitarian materials flow in.
CBS News reached the Syrian earthquake zone this week and found that amidst the greatest despair, people were still being found alive. However, some of the survivors have surfaced with little left of their former lives.
Mustafa al-Mahrawy emerged alive earlier this week from under the crumbling concrete and twisted metal of a building recently housing more than 1,000 people. Up to 800 of its neighbors died.
He told CBS News he was trapped under the rubble with his wife and three children for more than 22 hours.
“I found a big rock and hit it as hard as I could and yelled, ‘I’m here! I’m here!’” he recalled. “We saw a light and my kids started going, ‘Dad, Daddy, light!’ to call.”
The moment al-Mahrawy, his wife and children were rescued was also caught on camera. However, it was a rare glimmer of hope in rebel-held Syria.
Desperate need for help as death toll from earthquakes in Turkey and Syria mounts
The region already bore deep scars of civil war, as earthquakes brought even more death and destruction. So many people were killed by the tremors that farmland has been dug up for mass burials, but even that will not be enough for all victims.
Now it’s a race against time to help the living. CBS News found families displaced by the earthquakes sheltering in tents in an olive grove – another generation of Syrian children whose lives have been turned upside down.
Response to the disaster in Syria remains disastrously slow, with many in the rebel-held north blaming Assad. The President was recently seen greeting earthquake survivors in a loyalist area further south.
He still controls most of the country’s borders and the flow of aid across them. Western nations, including the US, are reluctant to work with a regime they have heavily sanctioned over the war in which Assad’s forces and their allies have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.
It took immense pressure from the United Nations to persuade the dictator to open the two additional land routes from Turkey for aid shipments – eight long days after the quake. It’s a temporary concession and they are due to close again in March, leaving only one border crossing from Turkey.
It’s all too much for Mustafa al-Mahrawy, who endured years of war before the earthquakes killed 20 members of his extended family.
“I have no more hope,” he told CBS News. “I sometimes think it would have been better if I had stayed under the rubble.”
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