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Turkish Rescuers Still Searching for Earthquake Survivors - 2003-05-02

Rescue efforts continue at a collapsed dormitory in eastern Turkey, where dozens of children remain trapped after Thursday's earthquake. Reporter Amberin Zaman is on the scene, and she spoke to VOA's Al Pessin in London.

PESSIN: Amberin, I know you're back in Bingol in front of the collapsed dormitory. Can you tell us what the situation is there now. Is there still any hope of survivors?

ZAMAN: The military, the Turkish colonel, who is directing the whole rescue operation insists that there is hope. And there have been some very dramatic scenes when the colonel ordered everyone here, I mean, there are hundreds of people, soldiers, journalists, and, of course, relatives of the children trapped under the school, milling around. He told everybody to just shut up. And there was total silence. They started using this very sensitive hearing equipment in the hopes of hearing some voices, signs of life. Then the colonel asked the children to sort of tap on the walls so they could hear them. But, sadly, there was no response. And so, then, the colonel ordered the sniffer-dogs to come and start sniffing. So that is what's happening right now. We have the dogs looking for signs of life. There was one happy moment about an hour ago when a 14-year-old boy was pulled out alive. But then we had a pretty serious aftershock and we were all ordered out of the area. All the rescue workers had to be evacuated from the scene. So a lot of drama here, still, this morning, Al.

PESSIN: I understand there was a protest earlier, people upset claiming that the government isn't doing enough to rescue the children who are trapped inside. What can you tell us about that protest?

ZAMAN: That's right. A crowd gathered in Bingol city and started protesting and, apparently, they started attacking shops, ransacking shops, breaking shop windows. Then the local military started firing shots in the air. But we haven't heard of any casualties in that incident. But it reflects the frustration, the anger here, because, don't forget, this is a largely Kurdish area. It is one of the provinces, which has long been neglected by the government; a lot of poverty here. And, indeed, the boys who were sleeping in that dormitory came from very poor, rural families, from villages where there are no schools because the government never bothered to build any.

PESSIN: Amberin, have you been around the area today to see any other rescue efforts going on, or recovery, or impact of the quake?

ZAMAN: As one drives through the town, to get to this school one does see quite a few collapsed buildings and, yes, rescue efforts continuing there too. Also, today we see many more tents erected in the gardens outside people's homes. People are too scared to go back to their homes and it gets extremely cold at night. The government has now started distributing these tents. We also see soup kitchens and people given free food. So that's the situation here.

PESSIN: We've heard reports of various types of foreign assistance being offered or being on the way. It's now well over 24 hours since the quake happened. Is there any sign of any foreign assistance arriving?

ZAMAN: I certainly haven't seen any signs of foreign assistance. I know that the U.S. government certainly offered assistance. It was told that it was not required, that the Turkish government could handle the situation on its own. I think that is probably true because the rescue efforts seem terribly well organized and there are a lot of different rescue teams working very closely with the military here. And, yes, it has been a very tragic incident, but it is certainly nowhere on the scale of the 1999 earthquake in northwest Turkey that claimed 17,000 lives. Then of course we had all sorts of foreign teams coming in, helping out. But I think right now, the Turkish government seems to have the situation here very much under control.

PESSIN: And as you stand there, looking at this terrible scene, they have not given up hope apparently. They are still hoping to get more children out of that wreckage alive?

ZAMAN: They are absolutely determined to get children out of that wreckage alive. The colonel here said, 'We will stay here until we get every single child out of there. And I want them alive.' He was barking those orders. It was a very dramatic moment.