- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

CELTIKSUYU, Turkey — Rescuers dug frantically in the rubble of a middle-school dormitory yesterday, searching for more than 100 children believed trapped after a powerful earthquake rumbled through southeastern Turkey. At least 100 people were killed and 1,000 injured, officials said.The headmaster said 198 students — ages 7 to 16 — were sleeping in the building when the quake hit. Rescuers found the bodies of 11 children and one teacher in the flattened building, and 72 children were rescued, officials said. Many others were feared dead, but youngsters could be heard screaming in the rubble, rescue worker Muhsin Balgi said.”We hope another 50 students will be saved,” Mr. Balgi said.A civil defense official at the site said at least eight children had been located alive. One child’s feet were crushed, but the others were in good condition and had received water from rescuers, the official said.”My friends are waiting for help in there,” 12-year-old Veysel Dagdelen was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency after he was rescued. “They were calling for help as they were pulling me out.”Hundreds of parents, waiting for news, prayed and screamed.Rescuers also dug through a destroyed apartment block in an effort to get people out. One man carried a dead baby into a hospital.The magnitude-6.4 quake struck at 3:27 a.m. and was centered just outside Bingol, 430 miles east of Ankara, the Kandilli seismology center in Istanbul said.A bridge and at least 25 buildings collapsed in the center of Bingol, a city of 250,000 inhabitants, Mayor Feyzullah Karaaslan said. Damage could be seen throughout the city, where the streets were filled with frightened residents.The earthquake also damaged power and telephone lines. More than 100 aftershocks hit the region, and rescue workers were unable to reach many villages.Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said nearly 100 people were killed, and Housing Minister Zeki Ergezen said the death toll could be 150 throughout the region.In Bingol, 90 persons died and close to 1,000 were injured, said Sevket Turan, a city official.Bingol is a largely rural, poor area in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, which suffered for years from the fighting between the Turkish army and Kurdish rebels seeking autonomy.Soldiers, rescuers and local residents worked their way through the debris using cranes and jackhammers, trying to save surviving students. Many injured students were being treated on mattresses laid out near the building.Naim Gencgul, a 15-year-old boy, suffered a broken arm.”The whole building was on top of me,” he said.Relatives rushed toward soldiers every time a rescued student was carried out on a stretcher to check whether their children had been saved. Most are children of poor farmers from nearby villages that do not have schools.Parents questioned the quality of the school’s construction.”The stable I built did not collapse, but the school did,” said Abdullah Gunala, the father of a rescued student.Visiting the area, the prime minister said proper inspections had not been carried out and that shoddy material had been used to build the school.”Investigations will be launched, and the guilty will be prosecuted,” Mr. Erdogan said.Thousands of poorly built buildings collapsed when two massive earthquakes struck western Turkey in 1999, killing some 18,000 people.Doctors at Bingol’s state hospital appealed for help. The hospital was seriously damaged in the quake, and scores of injured were being treated outside.”We need every kind of help,” said Ilhan Cokabay, chief doctor at the hospital. “Medical supplies, people, whatever.”The quake, which lasted 17 seconds, was felt in the nearby provinces of Erzincan, Tunceli, Erzurum, Kayseri and Sivas.Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, which lies on the active North Anatolian fault. A 1971 quake in Bingol killed about 900 people.


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