Tens of thousands have been left homeless by the powerful 7.2 magnitude quake, which has now prompted the government to request foreign aid, including from Israel, to shelter distraught families amid growing complaints of a lack of tents and other relief supplies.
Officials said prospects of finding survivors buried under tonnes of rubble were waning as time passed and winter temperatures fell, but Gozde Bahar, an English teacher, was pulled out alive in the town of Ercis, the hardest hit by the quake. As she was being transported to hospital her heart briefly stopped. She was in critical condition.
“Of course I still have hope,” Bahar’s fiance, Hasan Gurcan, 29, said looking dazed as he relayed the news on his mobile.
The survival of a 14-day-old prematurely born baby girl called Azra rescued on Tuesday also lifted spirits.
“We have hope. There are always miracles. Normally, we do not expect anyone to survive after 72 hours but people have survived longer than that before,” said a rescue official standing by the collapsed building where Azra was found.
But a senior rescue official in Van told Reuters: “Search and rescue operation in the centre of Van are now over. We have reached the bottom of the wreckage and searches are now over in the centre of Van.” He said the searches in the centre of the town had included six buildings.
On a main street in Van rescue workers pulled out the dead body of a woman in her 20s from the flattened remains of a seven-storey apartment block.
“Our bride, our angel has gone,” said a small group of women who cried as the woman’s corpse was brought out, sealed in a body bag and taken away in an ambulance.
While the death toll that struck eastern Van province near the Iranian border stood at 459, officials said it was likely to rise as many people were still missing.
“We don’t think there are any more bodies inside this wreckage,” an official from the Ankara civil defence union told Reuters after working to pull the woman out. His group was giving up searching in the remains of what was a relatively new building.
Two women bystanders said workmen had recently pulled down columns in the building in order to convert a supermarket into a pharmaceuticals depot. One of the women worried about the onset of cold weather.
“It’s impossible to live in tents in Van. Look how cold it is and it is only October and now snow is on its way. We have a two-year-old child. What are we going to do with him?” said a woman in her 40s who only identified herself as Emine.
She said her family was sleeping in a car because, although their home had not collapsed, cracks made it uninhabitable. She also complained about the apparent lack of soup kitchens.
ORDEAL UNDER RUBBLE
At a demolished building in central Ercis rescue workers who had worked non-stop for more than 48 hours switched off their generators and lights, convinced no one could be left alive.
Seconds after the lights went out, they received word that someone trapped below had made contact on a mobile phone.
“There are three people trapped under there. When we lifted a concrete slab, the phone must have been able to get reception,” said one rescue worker, as the lights were turned back on and his team returned to their job.
At a makeshift field hospital in a sports hall outside Ercis, wounded and sick patients lay groaning on mattresses.
Orhan Acar, 30, was looking for his missing brother, Coskun, 25, who was in the centre of Ercis when the quake struck.
“I have been looking for him the whole time since the quake but my hope is diminishing as time goes by,” he said.
Complaints over the lack of tents have grown louder with each passing day, and some desperate survivors fought among themselves to try and grab tents being distributed by relief workers from the back of a truck.
The Turkish Red Crescent has been struggling to deliver fast enough to provide shelter for victims of the quake shivering in freezing temperatures at night.
Having started out by saying Turkey could handle the disaster alone, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government put out requests on Tuesday to 30 countries, including Israel, for emergency materials, including prefabricated housing, tents and containers.
Israel, whose ties with Turkey hit rock bottom after Israeli commandos killed nine Turks on board a Gaza-bound flotilla last year, immediately said it was launching an airlift of supplies, starting with a shipment of prefabricated homes on Wednesday.
Turkey’s most powerful quake in a decade is one more affliction for Kurds, the dominant ethnic group in the impoverished southeast, where more than 40,000 people have been killed in a three-decade-long separatist insurgency.
“There is absolutely no coordination, you have to step on people to get a tent,” said jobless Suleyman Akbulut, 18.
Japan’s embassy in Ankara said its government was donating $400,000 to the relief effort and would be sending urgently needed items including tents.
People in Van, Ercis and other towns and villages in the region were fearful of returning to their damaged homes as more than 200 aftershocks have rattled the quake zone since Sunday.
Prisoners in a jail in Van rioted on Tuesday because they feared they would be crushed in their cells when a 5.4 magnitude aftershock struck and spread panic.
The inmates set fire to the jail and fought their guards before troops were sent in to quell the violence. Firefighters put out the flames.
Members of parliament from a pro-Kurdish party joined negotiations between prisoners and officials to restore calm.
“Inmates naturally wanted to go out in the yard after the strong aftershock. They weren’t allowed, there was chaos,” said parliamentarian Aysel Tugluk. Reuters