In what one rescue worker called “a miracle,” extraction teams brought two girls out alive Monday from the wreckage of their collapsed apartment buildings in the Turkish city of Izmir, three days after a strong earthquake hit Turkey and Greece.
Onlookers applauded in joy and relief as ambulances carrying the girls rushed to hospitals immediately after their rescues.
The overall death toll in Friday’s quake reached 85 after teams found more bodies overnight amid toppled buildings in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city.
Close to 1,000 people were injured, mostly in Turkey, in the quake, which was centered in the Aegean Sea northeast of the Greek island of Samos. It killed two teenagers on Samos and injured at least 19 other people on the island.
Rescue workers clapped in unison Monday as 14-year-old Idil Sirin was removed from the rubble, after being trapped for 58 hours. Her 8-year-old sister, Ipek, did not survive, NTV television reported.
Seven hours later, rescuers working on another toppled building extricated 3-year-old Elif Perincek, whose mother and two sisters had been rescued two days earlier. The child spent 65 hours in the wreckage of her apartment and became the 106th person to be rescued alive, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Muammar Celik of Istanbul’s search-and-rescue team told NTV television that he thought Elif was dead when he reached the child inside the wreckage.
“There was dust on her face, her face was white,” he said. “When I cleaned the dust from her face, she opened her eyes. I was astonished.”
Celik said: “it was a miracle, it was a true miracle.”
The girl would not let go of his hand throughout the rescue operation, Celik said, adding: “I am now her big brother.”
There was some debate over the magnitude of the earthquake. The U.S. Geological Survey rated it 7.0, while Istanbul’s Kandilli Institute put it at 6.9 and Turkey’s emergency management agency said it measured 6.6.
The quake triggered a small tsunami that hit Samos and the Seferihisar district of Izmir, drowning one elderly woman. The tremors were felt across western Turkey, including in Istanbul as well as in the Greek capital of Athens. Hundreds of aftershocks followed.
Turkey has a mix of older buildings and cheap or illegal construction, which can lead to serious damage and deaths when earthquakes hit. Regulations have been tightened in light of earthquakes to strengthen or demolish older buildings and urban renewal is underway in Turkish cities, but it is not happening fast enough.
Turkey sits on top of fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. In 1999, two powerful quakes killed some 18,000 people in northwestern Turkey. Earthquakes are frequent in Greece as well.