Turkey quake survivor’s first concern after 10 days trapped under rubble: ‘How is mother?’
“How is my mother and everyone?” the man on the stretcher asks, speaking calmly into a cell phone. Crying in disbelief, his friend replies: “Everyone is well… they are all waiting for you… I am coming to you.”
This was the emotional exchange that followed the rescue of Mustafa Avci, 33, who was pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building in Turkey’s southern Hatay province 261 hours after a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the region on February 6.
On Friday, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca released a video showing the phone call between Avci and his friend, in a powerful reminder that even now – 11 days after the quake struck – finding survivors against the odds remains possible.
The rescue of Avci late on Thursday night came as the death toll across Turkey and Syria rose to at least 43,885 people, according to official figures.
In the video, Avci can be seen wearing a neck brace and appears wide-eyed with hope as he asks: “Did everyone escape okay…? Let me hear their voices if for a moment.”
His friend sobs back: “I am driving… I am coming to you… Brother, I am coming.”
Avci then kisses the hand of the rescuer who is holding the phone and thanks him. “May God be happy with you a thousand times,” he says.
Koca, the minister, said both Avci and a second man, Mehmet Ali Sakiroglu, 26, were rescued around the same time from under the ruins of a private hospital building.
Sakiroglu had been at the hospital for a check-up when the quake struck, his father told CNN affiliate CNN Turk.
The two men were found when a rescue team spotted a leg dangling from a pile of rubble after a machine operator cleared the surface debris.
The men were taken to Hatay’s makeshift hospital for treatment, the health minister said.
CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who is in southern Turkey, said it was unusual for people to survive more than 100 hours trapped in rubble and most successful rescues usually occurred within 24 hours.
“These are remarkable stories and people rise up… in these situations,” he said.
The rescue of the two men follows that of a 13-year-old boy named Mustafa in Antakya, Hatay province, on Wednesday – 228 hours after the quake struck.
Mustafa’s survival was “certainly a miracle,” rescue worker Özer Aydinli told Gupta in an interview on Thursday.
Aydinli said he thought his fellow rescue workers were “hallucinating,” and he assumed the boy had “died with his eyes open.” But the child cried out, “Brother! I don’t feel my legs. Save me!”
A crew of more than 70 people then rushed over to help.
“Even now, we get tears in our eyes from time to time,” Aydinli said, referring to the boy’s rescue. “He is quite well and conscious. Hopefully, he will get better.”
Rescue teams are still trying to access hard-to-reach areas of Turkey and Syria, but the number of people being found alive is dwindling.
Meanwhile, though donations are pouring in from all over the world, many survivors have been left homeless in near-freezing winter temperatures with a lack of access to basic necessities.
“A lot of lives have been saved, a lot of people have been pulled from rubble by their neighbors, by their friends, by their sons, daughters, mothers, fathers. Frontline health workers have done amazing work in both countries,” the World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergencies director, Mike Ryan, told a briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.
WHO said it was particularly concerned for people in northwestern Syria, a rebel-held region with little access to aid. The United Nations’ health agency said it had asked Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to open more border crossing points with Turkey to allow aid in.
“It’s clear that the zone of greatest concern at the moment is the area of northwestern Syria,” Ryan said.
Delivering aid to Syria has been limited by restrictions on the cross-border mechanism agreed by the UN Security Council resolution in 2014 to allow aid to cross four places on the Turkey-Syria border.
“The impact of the earthquake in areas of Syria controlled by the government is significant, but the services are there and there is access to those people,” Ryan said. “We have to remember here that in Syria, we’ve had 10 years of war. The health system is amazingly fragile. People have been through hell.”