Rescue workers pulled a 13-year-old boy alive out of the rubble of an apartment block five days after a powerful earthquake that killed at least 570 people in eastern Turkey.
The rescue lifted Turkish spirits as thousands of quake survivors endured a fifth freezing and wet night without a roof over their heads.
The boy, named as Ferhat Tokay, was put in a neck brace and taken on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance after being rescued in the town of Ercis, the hardest hit by Sunday’s 7.2 magnitude quake, television images showed, Reuters reports.
“We started digging and at first we saw his hand. And then we started speaking to him. He said ‘I am hungry and thirsty’,” an exhausted but elated medic, Baris Dogan, told Reuters.
“My feelings are inexplicable. It was like taking my own son out.”
Tokay was rescued from the first floor of a collapsed seven-storey block of flats where he lived with his family on the main street in Ercis, opposite a mosque whose minarets had collapsed. Buildings remained standing around the wreckage.
Around 50 people dug on through the rubble in the hope of finding more people alive. As many as 10 were still missing from the building but there were no immediate signs of life.
“We didn’t believe he would die. He is a strong child. I feel so good right now and I’d like to say to him get well soon,” 16-year-old Ozgur Yildiz, a friend of Tokay’s, said after hearing he had survived.
Tokay was the second person to be rescued hours after an 18-year-old man was brought out late on Thursday to cheers among grief-stricken quake survivors.
People left homeless by the quake in the predominantly Kurdish eastern province of Van have complained bitterly over the slow delivery of relief items like tents.
Drenched by pouring rain, more and more are falling sick, and with the first winter snows expected in November there is an urgent need to get people under cover fast.
Although most search operations are beginning to wind down, 187 people have been found alive under collapsed buildings since the quake struck just before 2:00 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Sunday, according to an official count.
The Disaster and Emergency Administration said on Friday the death toll had risen to 570, with 2,555 people hurt in Turkey’s biggest quake in more than a decade.
No official figures were available for the homeless.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies put the number of “affected people” at 50,000 in a news release to raise funds for relief efforts.
In Ercis alone, a town of around 100,000 people, it was clear that hardly anyone was going back to their homes even if they were still standing.
Two or three tent cities have sprouted on the outskirts of Ercis, but thousands of men, having settled children and women as best they can, wander the city at night looking for whatever shelter they can find.
With nowhere to go, they lean against walls to protect themselves from the rain.
Some survivors, who had stood in long queues only to be told there were no tents left, accused officials of handing aid to supporters of the ruling AK party. Others said profiteers were hoarding tents and reselling them.
Scuffles broke out in one long line to a distribution centre, before police stepped in to calm tempers.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan visited the area hours after the disaster struck and wants to build bridges with Turkey’s minority Kurds. So any accusations of neglect or ineptitude can be politically sensitive.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in a Kurdish separatist insurgency in the region that has lasted three decades. Last week militants killed 24 troops in neighbouring Hakkari province.
A government that had thought it could manage the relief effort alone is now gratefully accepting foreign help in the shape of tents, prefabricated housing and containers.
The first foreign planeloads of tents arrived on Thursday from France, Ukraine and from Israel, despite its poor relations with Turkey.
Unable to cope with demand, relief authorities in the provincial capital Van decided to hand out tents to people only after verifying their homes were too unsafe to return to.
Vainly trying to dry linen and blankets after the rain, one mother of three was ready to be persuaded to quit her tent and go home out of a mixture of desperation and resignation.
“It looks fine from the outside, but inside it looks very unstable with all the cracks in the walls,” the woman, who gave her name as Nimet, told Reuters, pointing at the block where she lived close to the city centre in Van.
“The university experts and the governor say ‘go back to your houses’, and if they are ready to take responsibility we will go back. We are very cold,” she said, dressed in the headscarf and long floral dress common across the region.
“What other choices do we have but to go back to our houses anyway? Last night, it rained and all our belongings are still wet. I don’t know how many more days we can stay in a tent like this.”