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Search for Turkish quake survivors called off

world Updated: Oct 29, 2011 18:45 IST

AFP
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Rescue teams in eastern Turkey who have worked around the clock for the past week will wind up the search for quake survivors by nightfall, deputy prime minister Besir Atalay announced on Saturday.

As the death toll rose yet again, a solemn Atalay said operations in Ercis, the worst-hit city in the earthquake stricken Van province would be called off because hope of finding anyone else alive had run out.

Six more bodies had been recovered, he said, pushing the toll to 582. In all, 231 survivors had been rescued from scores of collapsed buildings following last Sunday's 7.2 magnitude tremor. Over 2,600 people had been wounded in the disaster.

"Rescue teams are still working in the ruins of four buildings in Ercis. Tonight this will stop," Atalay told reporters in Van city.

The last person to be found alive was a 12-year-old boy named Ferhat Tokay who was brought out at dawn on Friday after spending 108 hours trapped under the ruins of a building in Ercis, a town of 75,000.

"It is unlikely, barring some miracle, that anyone else will be found alive in the rubble in such cold weather," a Turkish doctor was quoted as saying on CNN-Turk television.

The focus on Saturday turned to clean-up efforts and the plight of survivors.

The United States was the latest country to offer help, with the Pentagon saying on Friday that US military aircraft were to begin delivering relief supplies from US military bases in Europe.

Atalay thanked the international community "for its concern" for the Turkish quake victims, and said electricity, gas, running water and telecommunications networks had been re-established throughout the region.

City planning minister Erdogan Bayraktar, meanwhile, promised that new housing would be ready in Van by September 2012 for people left homeless by the quake, as fresh rain and snow in the province added to their misery.

Many camped out in tents or make-shift shelters, fearing more building collapses in aftershocks. Some camps turned into mudbaths.

A group of comedians from Istanbul tried to lighten the mood in Ercis, bringing a cake to three-year-old Mouhammed Kaya to celebrate his birthday with his family, huddled inside a chilly tent.

On Saturday, teams started clearing rubble in Ercis, hoping to recover bodies trapped under the masses of iron and concrete, CNN-Turk and NTV reported.

Since Friday, Turkish soldiers are accompanying trucks carrying supplies to the region after angry survivors looted several Turkish Red Crescent trucks, amid complaints that aid was not arriving fast enough.

The Islamist-rooted government of President Abdullah Gul, meanwhile, called off celebrations, including the traditional military parade, due to take place on Saturday for the 88th anniversary of the Turkish republic, founded on October 29, 1923.

Secular groups charged it with using the quake as a pretext to ignore the secular roots of modern Turkey, with an editorial in the Vatan newspaper saying: "Why don't you cancel the republic while you're at it, too!"

Turkey has accepted help from dozens of countries, including Israel and Armenia, both states with which it has frosty relations.

With the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival of sacrifice due in early November, the Turkish Red Crescent would distribute the meat of 500 cattle in the region, Anatolia news agency reported.

President Gul also criticised Turkey's construction sector, after more than 5,000 buildings collapsed across the province. Experts have said concrete mixed with too much sand taken from riverbeds had contributed to making housing units unstable.

"The earthquake in Van reminds us that our country is prone to quakes, and has also shown that such destruction is caused by negligence and irresponsibility," Gul said in a speech.