Diyarbakir: Desperation grows in Turkey and Syria earthquake rescue effort as death toll rises

ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger reports from Diyarbakir where the search has, at one site, turned into the thankless task of recovering the dead

As it turned midnight, Diyarbakir felt like a city of ghosts. Apartment blocks that would normally be ablaze with light stood in darkness - their residents too scared to sleep in flats still being wobbled every day or two by aftershocks.

Despite the cold, people huddled instead by makeshift bonfires on the pavement outside or sat, wrapped in blankets, on hard chairs in halls and cafes. At one car showroom, dozens of women were pressed close to its plate glass window. llluminated by giant lights and the lanterns of rescuers, it looked over a vast pile of rubble in the place they once called home.

A woman walks in front of a collapsed building in Gaziantep, south-eastern Turkey. Credit: AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili

One tall young man, with a bandage around his head, had somehow escaped the destruction.

We watched as rescuers called him over and he pointed to where his flat had been, one of 32 in the building. He couldn’t bear to talk about who it was who was still inside there somewhere. But another man told me about his friend, Madavah, a 29-year-old teacher who lived on the fifth floor with her cat. Calls to her phone just after the earthquake had got the busy signal, as if she was trying to use it.

But for a day and a night now, there had been nothing at all and it was impossible not to think about just how cold it must be, beneath the broken concrete now riddled with tunnels.

The temperature hovered around zero - about the same, it felt, as the chance of finding anyone else alive here. Not that the rescuers were ready to give up, despite over forty hours of backbreaking work. Every half hour or so there came frantic calls for silence. Tools and shovels were immediately laid down, the shriek of concrete grinders fell silent as everyone did their best to listen over the roar of the neighbouring highway.

Damaged vehicles sit parked in front of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Diyarbakir. Credit: Depo Photos via AP

“We thought we heard screaming from under the rubble” one of the watching police officers told us.

But if someone had been calling for help, now there was nothing. What had been a careful professional rescue effort began to shift in front of our eyes.

Footage shows a building collapsing in Diyarbakir

The tempo changed - the chain of men painstakingly shifting each chunk of masonry became a frenzied mass of people desperately digging and drilling. One man wrapped a rope around his friend’s waist and lowered him further down the wall of rubble. The lights continued to blaze over the site but inside the showroom, the women who had refused to leave could barely bring themselves to watch anymore. We didn’t realise it straightaway but perhaps they did. 48 hours had passed since the earthquake hit.

And as dawn broke and the temperatures plummeted again a desperate rescue attempt had gradually transformed, unspoken, into the thankless task of recovering the dead.

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