Silent phones, freezing rain and anguish amid deadly Turkey quake
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Silent phones, freezing rain and anguish amid deadly Turkey quake

At least 4,300 people killed

Friends and neighbours searched for signs of life in the Turkey quake deep into the freezing night.
Friends and neighbours searched for signs of life in the Turkey quake deep into the freezing night.

SANLIURFA, Turkey: A stream of cars crawled north out of the shattered city of Sanliurfa, taking traumatised residents a little further from the scene of Turkey's most powerful earthquake in decades.

On the opposite side of the road, a distraught family walked in the freezing rain, their belongings piled into a stroller, looking for shelter to spend the night.

Sanliurfa, one of the bigger cities of southeastern Turkey, was hammered by the massive 7.8 quake and swarm of smaller tremors that claimed at least 4,300 lives near the Turkey-Syria border, a mostly Kurdish region.

The disaster toppled nearly 3,500 buildings across 10 provinces, injuring more than 11,000 people and leaving an unknown number trapped under debris.

The sheer scale of the disaster seemed overwhelming.

But it came into focus on one of Sanliurfa's main boulevards, where dozens of rescuers were trying to pull survivors from a seven-story building that was reduced to mounds of dirt and debris.

At least 30 people are known to have died in this province, where 200 buildings crumbled from the 7.8-magnitude pre-dawn tremor and incessant waves of aftershocks.

Omer El Cuneyd hoped against hope that it would not climb here any further.

"There is a family I know under the rubble," said the 20-year-old Syrian student, who lives nearby.

"Until 11am or noon, my friend was still answering the phone. But she no longer answers. She is down there. I think her battery ran out," he said, trying to stay positive.

- 'We will stay' -

But it was no simple task -- In front of him lay the gutted remains of a sofa, a chair with splintered metal legs, and some torn curtains, all signs of the calm, simple life left behind.

Dozens of people tried to lift huge chunks of concrete debris, urgently listening for hints of life.

They would take silent pauses, peering into the rubble, filled with a mixture of exhaustion, anguish and hope.

Omer said he and his friends would stay here all night, no matter the rain and cold.

"I have to," he said.

A short walk away, Emin Kacmaz huddled around an improvised fire he built up with his three salesmen outside their furniture store.

Wrapped tightly in threadbare blankets, the stood guarding the shattered shop from thieves.

The store's gigantic windows were shattered and its huge columns cracked, barely able to support the seven stories of the damaged building looming ominously overhead.

"The building is not safe," the 30-year-old said, but he was not about to budge.

"We will stay here all night. It's our livelihood."

- People afraid -

A few hundred metres away, in a parking lot on the same avenue, Mustafa Koyuncu, 55, his wife and their five children sat crammed in a white car.

They were not moving -- few people seemed to be.

"We are waiting here because we can't go home. For the moment, it is forbidden," Koyuncu said, referring to a government order for everyone to stay out on the street for their safety.

He still held out some hope of being able to return home later Monday.

But if that did not work out, they would all head to a neighbourhood mosque, which like many others has been transformed into a reception centre.

"Our building is safe," Koyuncu insisted.

His oldest daughter dared to disagree.

"No, he's not so sure it is!" she interjected.

The father's reassuring tone quickly faded.

"Who isn't afraid right now?" he conceded. "Everyone is afraid."

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