In a Turkish town shattered by the earthquake, death is everywhere

Rescue workers search through the rubble in the Turkish city of Noordi on Tuesday. (Alice Martins for The Washington Post)

NURDIGI, Turkey — In a red blanket, Abdulrahman Genke cradled his baby girl, Huri, as he walked from house to house and from person to person at the local hospital, trying to find someone to take her home. To be taken to the village, to be buried.

Gencay asked a man driving an electrical repair van for a ride, but the car was out of fuel, the man said. He asked a paramedic for help, but was politely told that a doctor’s duty was to save the living.

“Isn’t that your duty?” Gencay said, then crouched in a small garden, weighing his options. Finally, he walked with his daughter to Noordgi, which, like many in Turkey after Monday’s earthquake, was filled with ambulances and grief and the dead everywhere.

The death toll in Turkey alone rose to nearly 5,900, the government said, with little indication that the country was close to the final count. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 affected areas, as the devastation spread across southern and eastern Turkey, with an endless stream of pockmarked roads, dilapidated bridges and flattened structures. Parade, from gas. Station to high-rise apartment blocks.

The town of 40,000 in the shadow of the snow-capped mountains told the fate of Turkey’s worst-hit towns and cities, condemned near the epicenter or along the quake’s fault line. In these places, entire districts have been engulfed in rubble, and aid workers and residents are struggling to make sense of the damage.

Here, the dead were lined up outside the hospital, in body bags or blankets, dozens of them, as the mortuary was full, a police official said. They were pulled out of houses that had collapsed on top of them, followed by the cries of relatives.

Some deaths were estimated, given all the time it took after the earthquake to demolish entire neighborhoods, and destroy buildings that didn’t fall. As hope for the lost vanished, outbursts of grief and anger erupted, in horrific scenes that seemed to be on every block.

The trouble started at the city’s entrance, where a man tried to cut through a long line of cars and trucks by shouting at drivers and saying they were obstructing the passage of ambulances. “How would you feel if your family was under the rubble?” He was angry. A few blocks away, rescue workers dug through the rubble of several large buildings, including a hotel that residents said was full of guests, a seven-story apartment building and a residential building. In which female teachers were kept.

27-year-old Ridwan Capic was inside the block before the apartment collapsed. She said as it moved, she made eye contact with her sister and approached her. But then they split up, as the building seemed to be collapsing and he found himself in what he called an “empty space” in the rubble.

A few hours later, she heard voices, and 21 hours after she was buried, rescue workers pulled her out.

Now he was back on the mound wearing yellow rain boots, his lips black from his ordeal, digging for his sister and her family, a task that grew more dire by the hour. .

A few blocks down the street, near a section of destroyed shops, a man who gave his first name as Okix said five family members were trapped in a nearby building. He had no idea if they were still alive or not. He said the relief teams “arrived late”, with the first teams not reaching Noordaga by Monday evening.

“We are taking care of ourselves,” he said.

While the town waited for help, several members of Zaki Musa’s family were killed in a building that housed Syrian families from Aleppo. He said there were more than 1,000 Syrian families in Noordigh, estimating that hundreds of Syrians would be among the dead.

As he spoke, a few blocks away, a woman with dyed blonde hair ran toward an intersection, frantically beckoning a group of soldiers to follow her, to rescue a child. For he thinks live under a big building. Half an hour later, the woman was sitting on a curb, which looked like a baby pillow, blue and shaped like a cloud. The soldiers sat nearby.

The bodies of two children have been removed from the building, a soldier said, adding, “It will be difficult to get anyone out after this hour.” The woman hit the pillow and screamed.

“I wasn’t able to save him,” she said. Another ambulance was running.

In some parts of the exposure, the destruction was so complete that it was difficult to tell where the rubble of one building ended and another began. In other parts, high-rise buildings, perhaps, with shear walls, were open to clean rooms with houseplants and colorful sofas and white curtains.

The house where Ecem Su Cetin died had a roof like many others in the town. When her body was recovered from the detritus on Tuesday, her grandfather called her “my little sheep”. He was 6 or 7 years old and a half-dozen family members inside the building are believed to be dead, said his cousin Matton Seaton.

He said that no one came to help us.

Rescuers were doing their best, waiting for word on another resident, 23-year-old Mehmet Errol, two cousins, aged 19 and 21, who were hit by a car. But there weren’t enough rescue teams and “too many people were buried under the rubble.”

“We hope not,” he said.

Nearby, an elderly man, Salahuddin Tussin, watched over the body of his 15-year-old daughter, Diogo, whom he and his family had recovered from a rented house some shops away. Now she was in a mess, covered in a blanket.

Ramzan Arsalan, a music teacher, saw the bodies of his niece and nephew, aged 6 and 10, when they were pulled from their home on Tuesday. He said that he did not know when and where he would be buried. And he didn’t know what would become of the place, Nordgi, seeing how little was left of it.

“Everybody’s going to go now,” he said. “Everybody’s going to leave it.”

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