Mission Ends for Foreign Teams in Turk Quake Zone

from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 16 Nov 1999
By Osman Senkul

DUZCE, Turkey (Reuters) - Foreign rescue teams began withdrawing Tuesday from the area of Turkey's second devastating earthquake in four months as hopes faded of finding any more survivors.

Cold and weary workers from about 10 teams dismantled their tents and packed up equipment in pouring rain at gendarmerie headquarters in the ruined northwestern town of Duzce, which was at the center of Friday's quake.

The teams, many veterans of an earthquake that shattered areas farther to the west on August 17, spoke of limited success in rescuing people alive. Low temperatures meant survival times of those trapped under rubble were much shorter than in the sweltering heat of August.

''It seems there are no chances of finding anybody alive, so we were asked to leave. We think that is the right decision,'' said Gerd Friedsam, leader of a German search and rescue team which arrived Saturday.

His team had worked on some 30 sites, rescuing one man and two children alive on Sunday. A total of 47 foreign teams had registered in Duzce, alongside 100 Turkish teams.

Friday's tremor, measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale, killed more than 500 and left tens of thousands homeless. The grim figures added to a death toll of more than 17,000 and around half a million left without homes after the August quake.

Two buses arrived to collect the first teams, who waited by an improvised campsite in gardens muddied by morning rain. At a nearby sports stadium, military helicopters brought in officials visiting Duzce to inspect the damage and relief efforts.

Grateful Locals

The departing teams embraced those remaining, from as far afield as France, Britain, Germany, Holland, Spain, Algeria, Switzerland and Israel. Locals stroked the teams' search dogs which played a vital role in seeking out signs of life in collapsed buildings.

As they pulled out, homeless bystanders applauded from the roadside before continuing on their way to the town's crisis center in search of food and tents.

At the center, those overseeing rescue efforts agreed that there was little hope of finding survivors.

''Since yesterday there have only been a couple of reports of people alive under the rubble. We checked them out and there was no sign of life,'' said coordination center head Umit Kivanc.

''Now a few teams are just trying to get corpses out. The vast majority of the foreign teams will have left by tomorrow night,'' he said.

The remaining teams were expected to help with logistical support, setting up tents and helping to distribute supplies.

''We have just brought out another corpse and we are waiting for fresh tasks,'' said Pavel Hurmuz, head of a Romanian team.

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