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Earthquake Rocks Southeastern Turkey - 2003-05-01

Turkish rescuers are working to free dozens of people, many of them children, trapped in the rubble after a strong earthquake rocked the southeastern part of Turkey. Reporter Amberin Zaman went to the quake area and visited the site of a school dormitory that collapsed in the quake. She spoke to VOA's Al Pessin in London.

PESSIN: Amberin, I understand you are right there at the site of the dormitory that collapsed. Tell us what you are seeing and what is going on there.

ZAMAN: Well, it was a four-story building. It looks like a pancake right now. It is completely destroyed, collapsed. I see rescue workers on top of the building. Scores of rescue workers trying to pull out survivors. We do not know how many there may be. There were a total of 190 boarders, schoolboys, who were sleeping in this building when the earthquake struck at 3:27 a.m. local time. There are hundreds of people here. Hundreds of people awaiting the news of loved ones. We see hundreds of Turkish soldiers here. They have formed a human chain to keep those relatives away from the rubble, away from the building because it's very risky and we still are experiencing aftershocks here. A lot of crying people, wailing. It is a very tragic scene. And of course, it is raining now so that will probably hamper rescue efforts.

PESSIN: Have they got the type of equipment they need, perhaps rescue dogs, special teams, and other things to help in the effort?

ZAMAN: We have all kinds of rescue workers here from various organizations. The military in particular has been very active. We also see firemen and rescue teams who came in from neighboring provinces all working very hard since this earthquake struck. But there appears to be very little hope of many survivors in this earthquake because the building is completely destroyed. And, of course, it struck when people were sleeping, when the boys were asleep.

PESSIN: Well, they did pull one 12-year-old out of the rubble. It seemed to be quite a dramatic moment.

ZAMAN: I was not here to witness that, but I know that at least 20 or so boys were rescued. I spoke to one who described that moment. He spoke of his great fear. He was trapped under the rubble for seven hours. And, of course, there are these steel closets in these dormitories, lockers where the boys would put their clothes. And miraculously, those lockers were pushed against the walls, so they managed to hold up the first floor. And, in fact, the bulk of the survivors came out of that first floor where those closets helped keep up the ceiling at least on the sides of that floor.

PESSIN: It sounds like quite an incredible scene at that dormitory. What else have you seen in your drive through that area?

ZAMAN: Well, I saw several buildings again that had collapsed completely, very reminiscent of the scenes we saw in that major quake that shook Turkey in 1999 when 17,000 people were killed in western Turkey. Again, of course, shoddy construction materials were blamed for the high death toll then, as now. And some of these buildings that collapsed were brand new. This is a very impoverished region. People are already suffering a lot in this part of Turkey from a 15-year-long separatist rebellion that ended in 1999. But a lot of people were forced out of their villages and were only just beginning to return. And I met many villagers who were sent their boys to this boarding school who said there was quite a bit of devastation in the villages too. And that is the big concern because we have no idea yet, a clear picture, of the extent of the damage in these very remote mountain hamlets and villages.

PESSIN: Amberin, have you had a chance to visit any hospitals or other medical facilities to check on the injured?

ZAMAN: I have not visited any hospitals yet, but I did attend one funeral. Again, a very sad scene. And it is raining right now.