In the wasteland ravaging the center of Kahramanmaras in Turkey, we saw a pair of rescuers sitting in a digging shovel as they examined a large pile of concrete.
With their mobile bucket, they took to the air while investigating a fallen building. No one had checked this place before.
However, it is not surprising.
In Kahramanmaras, more than 200 buildings have been destroyed by the earthquakes and vibrations.
“Is anyone there? If you can hear me tapping on the wall,” said a rescuer.
Local officials face a tricky dilemma. Tens of thousands have been displaced by the disaster and many now sleep in plastic tents or self-built homes along the road.
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The climate is harsh, especially at night, and the authorities must clear the rubble and begin reconstruction.
But there is a conflicting requirement – a moral obligation to search for survivors – and this is a necessarily skillful and time-consuming process.
In what used to be the Elbrar apartment building, we encountered a multinational rescue team trying to free a woman named Leyla from deep under the pile.
And they had worked all night to release her.
We spoke to an Italian rescuer named Gianluca Pesce, an engineer who was volunteering on site.
“We opened a corridor inside, a corridor (that is) 50 cm square, very small, just enough for one person. I went in, about seven meters through the tunnel. We started calling her, she answered but her voice is weak.”
Rescuers, led by members of Israel’s national search and rescue unit, had spent 24 hours reaching her from the side and top of the building. They had already managed to free the woman’s husband and daughter, but Leyla was in a particularly difficult position.
“It’s going to take a long time,” Pesce said.
Sometimes a rescue is performed within minutes.
As we filmed at the Elbrar Building, word spread of another emergency. Just 100 yards from where we stood, a survivor was located under the remains of an 11-storey block.
An excavator operator named Selmir Gizet told us he was clearing the pile when he heard a strange noise coming from the rubble. He decided to sound the alarm.
Soon after, a man named Gohkan was dragged out of a hole and placed on a stretcher.
His feet were blistered and frostbitten and his face was torn – we saw a big indentation on his forehead.
But he was alive and managed to survive underground for more than four days.
“God is great,” cried the crowd, “God is great.”
With tears streaming down his cheeks, a rescuer told us, “I had a dream that I would find a man. We worked together as a team and did everything we could to save him. God save him, I hope he it survives.”
Back at the Elbrar block, the search and rescue crews were looking for Leyla, but they told us there had been a major development.
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Leyla’s voice may have belonged to her son – the pair were lying together in the boys’ room when the earthquake hit.
“We were looking for a woman. We know there is a woman and a child inside and as we got closer it became clear that we were talking to the child,” search and rescue paramedic Jonathan Rousso said.
“The team got to the point where they’re on the other side of the wall, but they can’t cut through (the wall) and there’s a washing machine (in the way). You can’t cut through the washing machine. You have to find a way, so we dig deeper.”
The operation was dangerous and with frequent tremors their tunnels threatened to collapse. We saw team members storming into the remains of a local store, looking for wood and screws to support their underground channels.
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Over the course of a painful evening, rescue team members managed to reach the boy.
He told them his name was Ridvan, Leyla’s nine-year-old son.
A doctor tried to stabilize him downstairs, but there were serious concerns about his condition. It has been decided to take him out.
On the surface, the volunteers called for silence, fearing to alarm the boy, and Ridvan was carried through a concrete hole on a stretcher. He was greeted with the sound of whispers from the crowd, which had grown to several hundred.
He had spent nearly five days underground, in his mother’s arms. He was cold and very dehydrated and part of his body was shattered. Paramedics rushed him to hospital.
Unfortunately, his mother Leyla did not survive, the rescue team could not save her in time.
A national catastrophe and a family tragedy in a city marked by grief.