Turkish quake death toll rises to 20

November 11, 2011 - 10:05 AM
Turkey Quake

People console one another as they wait for news as Turkish rescue workers search for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed hotel in Van, Turkey, Friday, Nov. 11, 2011. At least 17 people, including a Japanese aid worker, were killed and dozens of others trapped. The magnitude-5.7 quake was a grim replay of the previous magnitude-7.2 earthquake that hit Oct. 23, killing more than 600 people.(AP Photo/Bertan Ayduk )

VAN, Turkey (AP) — The death toll from the second earthquake to hit eastern Turkey in about two weeks rose to 20 on Friday as several rescue teams clawed through heaps of concrete to search for two journalists believed trapped in the rubble of a collapsed hotel.

Colleagues of the two reporters from Turkey's Dogan news agency were among dozens of people anxiously waiting for news outside the wreckage of the Bayram Hotel, one of the two hotels that fell apart when the 5.7-magnitude quake hit the eastern city of Van late Wednesday.

"In our profession we always come across disasters," Dogan agency's general manager, Ugur Cebeci, told The Associated Press as he watched rescuers in red overalls search through the debris of the once five-story hotel. "But we are grappling with helplessness here."

Journalists and relief workers — who had rushed to the region in the aftermath of a more powerful earthquake that hit the region on Oct. 23 — themselves became victims when the hotel, weakened by the earlier temblor, collapsed Wednesday. The fatalities include a Japanese relief worker who had come to distribute aid to quake survivors.

Rescuers pulled out eight bodies from the wreckage of the Bayram Hotel as well as the low-budget Aslan Hotel on Friday, raising the death toll to 20.

The dead include at least eight employees of a construction company who were in Van to assemble temporary housing units for survivors in nearby villages.

It was not known Friday how many people remained buried in the rubble of the two collapsed hotels.

"We are not able to hear any voices," said Disaster management official Askit Dayi. "But still we are removing layers of concrete in a way as if there are survivors." He said the search efforts at both sites could end by midnight Friday.

Recep Salci of the rescue group Akut told NTV television that freezing temperatures at night were also posing a threat to any possible survivors.

Rescue teams were using an emergency evacuation plan to determine possible escape routes within the pancaked building, said Bulent Gunduz of the Siemens private rescue team. "We can see all escape routes and fire stairs," said Gunduz. "The emergency floor plan has become like a compass for us."

On Friday, Turkey notified countries offering help to deal with the new quake that it would accept tents and prefabricated homes to house survivors through the winter.

Angry residents protested in Van, accusing authorities of failing to properly inspect the buildings following the Oct. 23 quake that killed more than 600 people. Police responded with pepper spray.

Those protests spread to national TV when one anchorman, Mustafa Yenigun of Flash TV, covered his mouth with a black tape Thursday evening as he held a banner that read: "people are under the rubble because of uncompleted tasks" — a reference to the failure to fully inspect damaged buildings.

Rescue worker Ramazan Demiregen said the steel rods in the columns of the collapsed Bayram Hotel were too thin.

The government said it was investigating possible negligence, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said legal action would be taken against officials or experts who may have allowed the two hotels to continue operating.

Turks paid tribute to the dead Japanese aid worker, Atsushi Miyazaki, calling him a benefactor on Twitter and lamenting that he died in a relatively weak earthquake compared to the massive one and tsunami that devastated Japan in March.

President Abdullah Gul sent a message of condolence to Japan's Emperor Akihito, saying Miyazaki and an injured colleague would be remembered with gratitude by the Turkish people.

"His name is Atsushi, his surname is human," wrote Ertugrul Ozkok, a columnist for Hurriyet newspaper on Friday. "A great Samurai."

Miyazaki had helped distribute meat to quake survivors in Van province during Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice. Other Japanese workers said they were thankful for Turkey's aid workers who came to help Japan in March, local media reported.

Miyazaki's 32-year-old female colleague, Miyuki Konnai, was rescued alive from the wreckage and was in stable condition.

The Japan's Association for Aid and Relief employee was caught in her hotel room while writing a report on her laptop after having visited villages affected by the earlier tremor.

"Suddenly the walls came toward me," the NTV television's website quoted her as saying. "I am afraid of the dark. When I looked around I saw the light from my laptop. This gave me hope for my survival."

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Associated Press writers Selcan Hacaoglu and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed.