A furious dig for survivors

Turkish earthquake kills at least 2,000

thousands buried alive

`It was like Judgment Day'

Buildings, overpasses toppled as temblor hits heavily populated area

August 18, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

IZMIT, Turkey -- Rescue teams worked furiously into the early morning hours today looking for survivors of a major earthquake that rolled across Turkey's industrial heartland, killing more than 2,000 people, injuring at least 10,000 and overwhelming hospitals with corpses and dazed, bloodied survivors.

The magnitude 7.1 quake struck at 3: 02 a.m. yesterday in the region around the country's major city, Istanbul, felling hundreds of residential buildings -- many, the government acknowledged, made of substandard materials. The debris crushed or smothered most of the victims in their sleep. By the end of the first day, thousands were still missing.

The temblor and its aftershocks killed at least 160 sailors at a Turkish naval base, set an oil refinery ablaze, disrupted water and power supplies, flattened overpasses and caused collisions on the highway linking Istanbul with Ankara, the capital. The quake toppled mosques and minarets in this mostly Islamic nation, wrecked workplaces and left tens of thousands homeless in a string of smokestack communities along the Sea of Marmara.

"The loss is huge," Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said yesterday in a trembling voice while touring the damaged area. "May Allah help our state and our people."

Ecevit's government appealed for search dogs, field hospitals, ambulances and other technical help to find and treat victims of what was believed to be the Istanbul region's deadliest quake, but said Turkey had enough resources to feed and shelter them.

Rescue teams arrived or were en route from the United States, France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and Israel. Longtime foe Greece also offered assistance.

In Washington, President Clinton dispatched a search-and-rescue team from the Agency for International Development, along with a separate disaster relief coordination team. He also released a grant of $25,000 for the Turkish Red Crescent, affiliated with the International Committee of the Red Cross. White House officials said there had been no reports of damage to U.S. military operations in Turkey.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families," Clinton said in Washington. "Turkey has been our friend and ally for a long time now. We must stand with them and do whatever we can to help them get through this terrible crisis."

James F. Dolan of the Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California said at least six scientists from the center and the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., will leave for Turkey as early as today to assist Turkish scientists with seismological and geodetic studies in the wake of the quake.

The temblor struck Turkey's most densely populated area -- the Istanbul metropolitan region of about 10 million people -- and scores of cities and towns to the east. Turkish officials measured the quake at magnitude 6.7; the U.S. Geological Survey gave 7.8 as the average reading of its many monitoring instruments. Later reports estimated the quake's magnitude at 7.1

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, in Istanbul for talks on oil and gas pipeline projects, called the quake a frightening "45 seconds' worth of very violent shaking."

"It was like Judgment Day," recalled Veysi Savur, a middle-age man in Izmit, who wore a blood-soaked Calvin Klein T-shirt around his head. "There was this deep and long shudder. The ceiling became the ground, the ground the ceiling. I thought I was dead."

Izmit, an industrial city of about 500,000 people located 65 miles east of Istanbul, was nearest the epicenter.

The city's oil refinery, run by the state-owned Tupras company, caught fire and defied daylong efforts from land and sea by firefighters to extinguish it. Two Turkish navy buildings collapsed in the nearby Marmara seaport of Golcuk, killing sailors in their sleep at one of the navy's main bases.

Turkish state television said more than 500 people were killed in the city of Sakarya, 100 miles east of Istanbul; at least 260 in Golcuk; and at least 165 in Istanbul. The government said it knew of no foreigners being injured and of no damage to historical sites in Istanbul such as the Blue Mosque or the Topkapi Palace.

So many people died in Izmit -- at least 400 by official count -- that the mayor turned the local ice rink into a backup morgue.

Slow response

The shock and pain of the disaster here in Izmit gave way to fury as government rescue teams took more than nine hours to arrive, leaving untrained volunteers to wield axes and sledgehammers in clumsy efforts to find survivors under tons of rubble.

"We have no staff, no electricity, no water," said Ismail Hicyilmaz, chief surgeon at Izmit's beleaguered hospital. "Did you ever wonder what hell would be like? Well, you have stepped right into it."

Hundreds of injured, unable to find beds at the hospital, lay on blood-covered stone floors and moaned for help. A handful of doctors gingerly picked their way among the patients, seeking out the most urgent cases.

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