Turkish woman found alive seven days after collapse

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

ANKARA, Turkey -- A critically injured 24-year-old woman was pulled out alive Monday after a week buried in the rubble of a collapsed apartment building -- a dramatic rescue that came after teams heard her scraping her finger nails against shattered concrete and pleading, "Water, water."

Yasemin Yaprakci, covered in dust, was carried on a stretcher into an ambulance as relief workers applauded. The rescuers worked for four hours to free her feet, which were trapped under decaying bodies.

She was rushed by helicopter to a military hospital in Ankara where she was in critical condition, suffering from gangrene, internal bleeding and broken ribs.

Relief workers found Yaprakci close to the entrance of the building, where rescue officials estimate 10 people were crushed as they tried to escape.

Yaprakci was given oxygen under the rubble as rescuers struggled to free her, furiously pulling pieces of concrete away with their bare hands.

Rescue workers dug out 14 bodies Monday, raising the death toll to 89. The 11-floor building in Konya in central Turkey collapsed Feb. 2. Since then, 29 survivors have been pulled from the wreckage.

Officials say a few bodies are still left under the rubble.

Rescuers were first alerted to Yaprakci by a Labrador rescue dog named Ledi. "We first thought Ledi found new corpses," said Sgt. Ergun Ucuncu.

Rescuers then heard a weak voice pleading "Water, water," rescuer Serdar Demirel told NTV television.

Another rescuer, Niyazi Ozbek, was quoted by the Anatolia news agency as saying Yaprakci helped rescuers "by making noise with her nails against the concrete."

He said she joked with relief workers as she was rescued, promising to invite them for tea if they would "just get me out of here."

Yaprakci was relieved to learn her husband and 18-month-old daughter, Yaprak, survived the collapse.

She spoke briefly with her husband, Halil, via radio from the rubble and said: "I'm fine, don't worry."

On Sunday, teams found a 16-year-old boy who survived under the rubble shrouded in pulverized concrete that kept him warm. He slept often, which slowed his metabolism.

Muhammet Kalem was the first survivor to be pulled from the wreckage in almost five days. His father had so little hope of seeing his son again that he had already dug his grave.

Kalem's mother and brother were found dead Monday, Anatolia reported.

Doctors said the remarkable survival of Yaprakci and Kalem for so long without food or water was helped by the fact that they slept most of the time and did not struggle.

The discovery of Yaprakci raised hopes other survivors might be found, though rescuers said they were mostly looking to recover bodies.

Officials have blamed the collapse on shoddy construction. On Friday, a Turkish court charged two contractors, Vedat Kaya and Ismail Canlier, with negligence for ignoring building codes.

Shoddy construction was also blamed for many of the deaths in two 1999 quakes in western Turkey that killed more than 18,000 people. Experts say little has been done to address the problem of poor construction.

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