Death toll rises in powerful Aegean earthquake as Turkish rescuers race to find survivors
By Kareem Fahim and Zeynep Karatas,
Ali Aksoyer AP
ISTANBUL — The death toll from a powerful earthquake in the Aegean Sea rose to 30 Saturday as rescue workers in the Turkish city of Izmir raced to save more dozens of people thought to be trapped under the rubble of at least eight collapsed buildings, Turkish officials said.
The earthquake, which struck Friday afternoon just north of the Greek island of Samos, caused deaths in both Turkey and Greece, flooded coastal areas and flattened residential buildings. Twenty-eight people were killed in Turkey and more than 800 people were injured, Turkey’s health minister and the country’s disaster management agency said Saturday. Two teenagers were killed on Samos after they were crushed by a collapsing wall.
Nine boats sank and more than 20 ran aground, Turkish authorities said.
The earthquake was the second large tremor to strike Turkey this year and came as the government was struggling to contain multiple crises, including a rise in coronavirus cases and a sharp economic downturn. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, while Turkey’s disaster management agency recorded its magnitude as 6.6.
Tremors were felt hundreds of miles from the epicenter, in Athens and Istanbul. More than 500 aftershocks followed, the disaster agency said.
Izmir Mayor Tunc Soyer told Fox News Saturday that rescue teams were still trying to reach 180 people trapped under the rubble. Turkish media showed footage of orange and red-clad rescue workers slowly removing debris from a completely collapsed structure in Bornova, in the northwest corner of Izmir and one of the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods.
Medics and rescue personnel carry into an ambulance an injured person from the debris of a collapsed building in Izmir.
More than five thousand rescue personnel and 20 sniffer dogs were deployed to find survivors, the disaster management agency said. The state run Anadolu news agency said 100 people had already been pulled alive from buildings, including an elderly woman who was freed from a pancaked structure on Saturday morning.
Zahide Kucukbozdol, 38, who was at home with her husband two children when the earthquake struck in Bayrakli, another badly-hit district in Izmir, described the panicked rush to find safety.
“First my husband felt it. I took my son in my arms. The earthquake was so strong, and it was very long,” she said in a telephone interview Saturday. When the shaking stopped, plumes of smoke were rising outside her window. “I grabbed my two children in my arms, one is one-and-a-half and the other is four. I felt so strong in that moment and without thinking of what I was wearing or doing, I went out the door. My husband took other essential things like phones, wallets and a baby carriage.”
Outside, “buildings were collapsing around us. It was like the movies. It is depressing and scary when you experience for yourself the things that happen in movies.”
A local resident, staying outdoors for fear of aftershocks, takes a moment to relax inside a coffee shop, as members of rescue services searching for survivors in the debris of a collapsed building are reflected in the window, in Izmir, Turkey.
In Greece, there was extensive damage as well to the aging, one-story houses on Samos, where many residents spent Friday night sleeping outdoors or in cars, local media reported. Nine people were injured, including a teenager who was airlifted to Athens in serious condition, the authorities said.
The earthquake provided a temporary respite from an acrimonious feud between the governments of Turkey and Greece over a large range of issues, including contested sovereignty in the Aegean. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — NATO allies who have engaged in a bitter war of words in recent months — spoke by telephone Friday and then posted conciliatory messages on Twitter.
“Turkey counts many victims and great damage. I have already contacted President Erdogan stressing that beyond difficulties in our relations in times like these the priority is the unity of our people,” Mitsotakis said in a televised address Saturday. “For us the importance of human life overcomes borders and differences. Ι thank him for his positive response to my phone call.”
The leaders’ gestures raised faint hopes that the tragedy might quiet their broader arguments. And indeed, there was a precedent for greater cooperation between Turkey and Greece following earthquakes: In 1999, when powerful tremors occurred within weeks of each other in both countries, one about 50 miles from Istanbul and the other in Athens. Each government sent rescue teams to aid the other, contributing to an outpouring of popular goodwill.
After Friday’s earthquake, Morgan Ortagus, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said the United States was “heartened by” and supported the cooperation between the two governments.
Elinda Labropoulou in Athens contributed to this report.