Turkey is clinging to hopes of finding survivors under rubble three days after a powerful earthquake killed at least 459 people in the southeast as the government finally requested foreign help to shelter thousands of homeless families.
In a remarkable episode on Tuesday that raised hopes that more survivors could yet be found, a two-week-old baby was pulled alive from the rubble, almost two days after being buried inside a collapsed apartment building.
Rescue workers then pulled out baby Azra’s mother, Semiha Karaduman, and grandmother, Gulzade Karaduman, to cheers and applause.
The baby was in good health, but has been sent to a hospital in Ankara, the capital, with her injured mother.
“What kept them alive is a sofa bed, a sofa bed sufficiently robust in construction to have kept the collapsed floor and ceiling apart just enough for those three people to survive more than two days in the rubble,” reported Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught from Ercis, the site of the rescue.
Fight over tents
Complaints over the lack of tents have grown louder with each passing day, and some desperate survivors fought among themselves to try and grab tents being distributed by relief workers from the back of a lorry.
Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught reports from Ercis, the worst quake-hit area
The Turkish Red Crescent has been struggling to deliver fast enough to provide shelter for victims of the quake shivering in freezing temperatures at night.
Rain fell in the region on Tuesday, with expectations that the first winter snow would fall soon.
The 7.2 magnitude quake, Turkey’s most powerful in a decade, is one more affliction for Kurds, the dominant ethnic group in the impoverished region.
“There is absolutely no coordination, you have to step on people to get a tent,” said jobless 18-year-old Suleyman Akbulut.
Having started out by saying Turkey could handle the disaster alone, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government put out requests on Tuesday to 30 countries, including Israel, for emergency materials, including prefabricated housing, tents and containers.
Israel, whose ties with Turkey hit rock bottom after Israeli commandos killed nine Turks on board a Gaza-bound flotilla last year, immediately said it was launching an airlift of supplies, starting with a shipment of prefabricated homes on Wednesday.
Japan’s embassy in Ankara said its government was donating $400,000 to the relief effort and would be sending urgently needed items including tents.
Meanwhile, rescue crews continued to attempt to free dozens of people trapped inside collapsed structures, most of which have been reduced to mounts of broken concrete and twisted steel. At least nine people were rescued on Tuesday, although many more bodies were found.
Workers used heavy machinery, jackhammers, shovels, pick axes and bare hands to comb through the debris.
Our correspondent said there were still many people trapped in the rubble because rescuers could hear their voices. Listening devices were being used to help locate people.
On Tuesday evening, a strong aftershock with a 5.4-magnitude hit the Van region, the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute said. The epicentre was Degirmenozu, between Van city and Ercis.
Questions raised about Turkey building standards after devastating earthquake
Close to 500 aftershocks have been recorded in the area since Sunday’s earthquake.
The latest major aftershock led to panic at Van’s prison, where inmates set fire to certain parts of the building while demanding to be let out.
Parts of the jail were on fire on Tuesday evening, and witnesses reported hearing gunfire emanating from within it.
“I’m standing outside the main gates of the jail, and a potentially very serious situation is developing here. As we drove towards the jail it was clear that it was still on fire. We could see a prison guard with a riot shield moving down from one of the watchtowers,” reported Al Jazeera’s McNaught.
A total of 2,200 buildings collapsed as a result of the quake and aftershocks, including a dormitory in Ercis under which many students were believed to be buried.
The Red Crescent said it had distributed up to 13,000 tents, and was preparing temporary shelter for about 40,000 people, although there were no reliable figures for the homeless.
A football pitch in Ercis has been transformed into a relief camp as the stadium served as a make-shift field hospital. About 1,500 units of blood have been sent to the region.
The government said about 2,400 search and rescue teams from 45 cities and more than 200 ambulances were deployed across the disaster-struck area.