Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 19:59 GMT 20:59 UK

World: Europe

The tales of the earthquake survivors

One tiny life: Ismail Cimen, pulled from the rubble after 140 hours

Amid the death and destruction wrought by the earthquake in Turkey, there have been a handful of incredible tales of survival.

Turkey Earthquake
International and local rescue teams, working against almost insurmountable odds, have in a few isolated cases succeeded in pulling victims alive from the rubble.

Some of these people have died soon after but others will survive. These are just some of the stories of those who were pulled alive from the rubble.

Ismail Cimen, aged four

While rescue teams continued their pull-out of Turkey on Monday 23 August, a four-year-old boy became one of the last to be pulled alive from the earthquake's devastation.

For some 140 hours, Ismail Cimen had remained conscious but trapped beneath the layers of rubble which was all that remained of his family's apartment block in Cinarcik, 50km south of Istanbul.

[ image: Hope lost: Ismail's family had already dug a grave]
Hope lost: Ismail's family had already dug a grave
As Sait Cimen, Ismail's uncle, continued to remove rubble to look for bodies, he shined a torch into a gap just 18ins high where he saw Ismail squinting back at him. Within minutes, Bulgarian and Turkish rescuers were at the scene, scrambling to free the boy.

Dehydrated and emaciated, Ismail is now recovering in an Istanbul hospital.

"I was playing with my truck. Then I fell," he said, recounting what had happened.

After the shock of the earthquake subsided, he had called for his parents and when they did not answer he tried clawing at the earth and rubble all around him.

[ image: Trapped: Survivors remained under rubble for hours after being found]
Trapped: Survivors remained under rubble for hours after being found
Ismail's mother, Serife, had earlier been pulled alive from the remains of the building and is currently recovering in a hospital in Bursa.

The rest of the family were not so lucky. Ismail's father Fatih, lost his life along with his three daughters aged eight to 13, one of whom was crushed just inches away from the boy.

Mr Cimen, said that the discovery was nothing short of a "miracle of God". The surviving members of the family had given up hope and had already prepared the child's grave.

Onur Umit, aged 14

Onur Umit was trapped for 27 hours in the ruins of a five-storey apartment block in Golcuk.

[ image: Elif Aksit: Three years old, found after 38 hours]
Elif Aksit: Three years old, found after 38 hours
During the first hours he remembered hearing other people trapped in the wreckage screaming and calling for help. As the hours passed, the cries died away.

But while his wait for rescue was not as long as others, it was no less agonising as it took the rescuers 18 hours to find a precarious route through the rubble.

"I felt very scared from time to time, but I kept playing games and thinking of things I want to do," he said.

Onur was trapped beneath concrete pillars in pitch darkness after the earthquake struck. At first he struggled as he breathed in dust and was not even able to move his head.

"Around me I heard people screaming," he said. "I said 'don't shout, you need to conserve your energy.' But after maybe 10 hours there was silence."

After freeing himself slightly, Onur broke off the leg of a chair and used it to band on the concrete.

[ image: Listening: Rescue teams would stop and listen for voices]
Listening: Rescue teams would stop and listen for voices
"I knew from a television programme that I would be able to survive for three days without food or water, so at least I stopped worrying about that," he said.

While Onur remained trapped, his mother, Aliye, crawled free of the wreckage minutes after the earthquake struck. As the family began the search, relatives told Aliye to prepare herself for the likelihood that her son would be found dead.

Onur tried to lie still to conserve energy and recited a comedy sketch to himself to keep his spirits up. Around 10 hours later he heard his name called and was able to reply. The scramble to free him began.

The first attempt failed when the rescuers found their way blocked by metal beams. The men of the family managed to get hold of some drills and attempted to get through the top.

As they got closer, Onur began to panic and cry until finally he was pulled clear with only minor injuries.

His father and grandfather and several other relatives did not survive.

Paraplegic rescued

On Sunday, a team of French rescuers pulled a paraplegic woman from under a collapsed building in Golcuk 130 hours after the earthquake hit.

[ image: Ayfer Sirin: Teenager rescued after 81 hours]
Ayfer Sirin: Teenager rescued after 81 hours
The teams pinpointed Adalet Cetinol, 57, after using highly-sensitive listening devices. Mrs Cetinol was alive but was rushed to hospital suffering from kidney problems.

Melahat Sarsan was pulled free from the rubble of her apartment in Cinarcik some 138 hours after the earthquake struck.

Mrs Sarsan, whose age was not given, was flown to an Istanbul military hospital while rescue workers continued to look for a man who they believed was still alive.

Another woman, Selna Bulte, remained trapped for 80 hours in the remains of her Izmit apartment block before French rescue workers reached her on Friday, the day before her 31st birthday.

She had been lying in bed with her husband Ahmet when the earthquake struck. The next thing she remembered was waking up alone, pinned under a ceiling, unable to move.

She began to shout but after a while realised that she could hear other voices talking to her husband who was alive but some distance away from her.

Once rescue workers heard her voice it took them seven hours to reach through the rubble to where she was buried.

100-hour survivors

One hundred hours after the earthquake hit, at least five children and a 95-year-old woman were found alive. An Israeli team freed Shiran Franco, 10, from a building which was on the verge of collapsing.

The head of the team, General Gaby Ophir, described the moment when they freed the little girl as one of "extraordinary emotion". Hours later the elation was dashed when the found Shiran's twin brother, Aryeh, dead.

In Yalova, a joint Turkish and French team freed an 11-year-old girl, Merve Ekinci, whose brother and sister were believed dead.

In Golcuk, a French team had more success when it found two sisters, Ilknur, 19, and Oznur, 10 alive while a Greek team in Dermederek rescued nine-year-old Gez Bezbul more than 17 hours after a sniffer dog had found the boy's location.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia

Relevant Stories

23 Aug 99 | UK
Britain's earthquake rescuers

23 Aug 99 | Europe
Healing the mental scars in Turkey

23 Aug 99 | UK
Rescue worker fears for quake survivors

20 Aug 99 | Health
Surviving against the odds

20 Aug 99 | Europe
Turkish quake: Can you help? The latest

Internet Links

National Earthquake Information Centre (US)

Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Turkish Daily News

Global Earthquake Report

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Violence greets Clinton visit

Russian forces pound Grozny

EU fraud: a billion dollar bill

Next steps for peace

Cardinal may face loan-shark charges

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

Trans-Turkish pipeline deal signed

French party seeks new leader

Jube tube debut

Athens riots for Clinton visit

UN envoy discusses Chechnya in Moscow

Solana new Western European Union chief

Moldova's PM-designate withdraws

Chechen government welcomes summit

In pictures: Clinton's violent welcome

Georgia protests over Russian 'attack'

UN chief: No Chechen 'catastrophe'

New arms control treaty for Europe

From Business
Mannesmann fights back

EU fraud -- a billion-dollar bill

New moves in Spain's terror scandal

EU allows labelling of British beef

UN seeks more security in Chechnya

Athens riots for Clinton visit

Russia's media war over Chechnya

Homeless suffer as quake toll rises

Analysis: East-West relations must shift