70-year-old pulled out alive in Turkey as quake toll hits 53

Rescue workers extricated a 70-year-old man from a collapsed building in western Turkey on Sunday, some 34 hours after a strong earthquake in the Aegean Sea struck Turkey and Greece, killing at least 53 people and injuring more than 900.

It was the latest series of remarkable rescues after the Friday afternoon earthquake, which was centered in the Aegean northeast of the Greek island of Samos. Search-and-rescue teams were working in nine buildings Sunday in the Turkish city of Izmir as day broke.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay raised the death toll in Izmir, the country’s third-largest city, to 51 as rescuers pulled more bodies out of toppled buildings. Two teenagers were killed Friday on Samos and at least 19 others were injured.

There was some debate over the magnitude of the earthquake. The U.S. Geological Survey rated it 7.0, while the Istanbul’s Kandilli Institute put it at 6.9 and Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said it measured 6.6.

The quake triggered a small tsunami in the Seferihisar district of Izmir, drowning one elderly woman, and on Samos. The tremors were felt across western Turkey, including in Istanbul, as well as in the Greek capital of Athens. Hundreds of aftershocks followed.

Turkey’s disaster agency said nearly 900 people were injured in Turkey alone.

Ahmet Citim, 70, was pulled out from the rubble shortly after midnight Sunday and was hospitalized. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted that he said: “I never lost my hope.”

Turkey has a mix of older buildings and lightly regulated cheap new construction, which can lead to serious damage and deaths when earthquakes hit. The vice president said 26 badly damaged buildings would be demolished.

“It’s not the earthquake that kills but buildings,” Oktay said, repeating a common slogan.

AFAD said more than 5,700 personnel had been activated for rescue work and hundreds of others for food distribution, emergency help and building damage control.

It was unclear how many more people remained under the rubble. Turkish media reported three more people were pulled out Sunday from one collapsed apartment building but their conditions were not known.

Dogs, cats and rabbits have also been rescued from the debris.

Turkey is criss-crossed by fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. In 1999, two powerful quakes killed some 18,000 people in northwestern Turkey. Earthquakes are frequent in Greece as well.

In a rare show of unity amid months of tense bilateral relations, Greek and Turkish government officials issued mutual messages of solidarity over the quake toll.

The quake occurred as Turkey was already struggling with an economic downturn and the coronavirus pandemic. So far, more than 10,000 people with the virus have died in Turkey, and some experts have accused the government of concealing the true impact of the virus with the way it counts cases.

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