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In earthquake rescues, noisy equipment and digging, then silence


ADANA, Turkey — They lifted cement slabs with huge cranes and smashed debris with jackhammers. Then they stopped.

Key to detecting the faintest sound that could be the sign of a survivor buried under the rubble of Monday’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

The shrieks of a whistle echoed every few minutes on Wednesday among the wreckage of a collapsed 14-story building in the Turkish city of Adana. Rescue workers shouted for silence and listened for voices from the rubble. Hundreds of people watching were dumbfounded.

During a moment of digging, volunteer Bekir Bicer discovered a crushed birdcage, he said. Inside was a blue-and-yellow bird, alive after nearly 60 hours.

“I was very happy. I almost cried,” said Bicer. “The cage was broken, but the bird was still in it.”

Friends and family of the prisoners sat beside fires, waiting for a miracle, even as the window of survival closed for those trapped under the rubble.

Suat Yarkan, 50, said his aunt and her two daughters lived in an apartment on the fourth floor of the building. They would have been sleeping at home when the earthquake hit. He was desperate for hope that they could be saved alive.

‘Look at the bird. Sixty hours,” he said. “It makes me feel like maybe God will help us… I have to believe they will restore everyone.”

Regular moments of silence are essential for such operations, says David Alexander, professor of emergency planning and management at University College London.

“We often see helicopters chirping above us, making a huge noise and sometimes blowing dust as well, as the teams desperately try to listen for any kind of sound that could indicate someone alive and under the rubble,” he said.

Sophisticated rescue teams will use microphones to pick up faint sounds, while specially trained dogs and fiber-optic cameras pick up heat in piles of rubble. But given the need to act quickly and the limited number of rescue teams deployed across a huge area, clamoring for help is essential.

“If a person can draw attention under the rubble, his chances of being rescued are about three times greater than if he were in a coma, statistically,” Alexander said.

As the sun set for a third time on devastated towns and villages in Turkey and Syria on Wednesday, the push to rescue survivors grew more urgent as the lack of food and water, bitterly cold weather and potential injuries became even more acute.

The prospects for finding survivors nearly three days after the quake are slim, experts say.

“The first 72 hours are considered critical because the condition of people trapped and injured can deteriorate rapidly and become fatal if they are not rescued in time and receive medical attention,” said Steven Godby, a natural disaster expert at the Nottingham Trent University. in England.

On Wednesday in Adana, rescuers from another collapsed building draped a white sheet over a recess in the rubble pile, obscuring what they had discovered there.

The excavators stopped and a stretcher was pulled behind the sheet as the workers watched in silence.

Adana, an ancient city of more than 2 million people just 32 km from the Mediterranean Sea, has experienced earthquakes before. A magnitude 6.3 quake in 1998 killed nearly 150 people in the city and its environs and left thousands homeless.

This week’s stronger earthquake has left many of Adana’s buildings, many of them modern, seemingly untouched. Many high-rise apartment buildings appeared completely undamaged. However, several 14-story buildings collapsed on the northern edge of the city.

On Tuesday evening, the Turkish government reported that 167 people were killed in the Adana earthquake, while others are still trapped under the rubble. That was only a tenth of the deaths reported in the devastated Hatay province miles away.

Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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