70-year-old pulled out alive in Turkey as quake toll hits 57

IZMIR, Turkey (AP) — Rescue workers extricated a 70-year-old man from a collapsed building in western Turkey on Sunday, some 34 hours after a strong earthquake in the Aegean Sea struck Turkey and Greece, killing at least 57 people and injuring more than 900.

It was the latest series of remarkable rescues after the Friday afternoon earthquake, which was centered in the Aegean northeast of the Greek island of Samos. Search-and-rescue teams were working in nine toppled or damaged buildings in Izmir, Turkey's third-largest city, but appeared to be finding more bodies Sunday than survivors.

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca raised the death toll Sunday in Izmir to 55. Two teenagers were killed Friday on Samos and at least 19 others were injured.

There was some debate over the magnitude of the earthquake. The U.S. Geological Survey rated it 7.0, while the Istanbul's Kandilli Institute put it at 6.9 and Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said it measured 6.6.

Ahmet Citim, 70, was pulled out of the rubble in the middle of the night and was hospitalized. Koca tweeted that Citim said: “I never lost hope.” The minister visited the survivor and said he was doing well.

The quake triggered a small tsunami that hit Samos and the Seferihisar district of Izmir, drowning one elderly woman. The tremors were felt across western Turkey, including in Istanbul, as well as in the Greek capital of Athens. Hundreds of aftershocks followed. Turkey’s disaster agency said nearly 900 people were injured in Turkey alone.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said 26 badly damaged buildings would be demolished.

“It’s not the earthquake that kills but buildings,” he added, repeating a common slogan.

Turkey has a mix of older buildings and cheap or illegal construction, which can lead to serious damage and deaths when earthquakes hit. Regulations have been tightened in light of earthquakes to strengthen or demolish buildings and urban renewal is underway in Turkish cities but it is not happening fast enough.

Two destroyed apartment buildings where much of the rescues are taking place had received reports of “decay” in 2012 and 2018, according to the municipal agency in charge of such certificates. A report on Turkish media including the Hurriyet newspaper said one of the buildings built in 1993 was at risk of earthquake damage because of low quality concrete and the lack of reinforcements. However, the building continued to be occupied.

AFAD said more than 5,700 personnel had been activated for rescue work and hundreds of others for food distribution, emergency help and building damage control.

Turkey is criss-crossed by fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. In 1999, two powerful quakes killed some 18,000 people in northwestern Turkey. Earthquakes are frequent in Greece as well.

In a rare show of unity amid months of tense relations over energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean, Greek and Turkish government officials issued mutual messages of solidarity over the quake toll.

The quake occurred as Turkey was already struggling with an economic downturn and the coronavirus pandemic. So far, more than 10,000 people with the virus have died in Turkey, and some experts have accused the government of concealing the true impact of the virus with the way it counts cases.

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Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul.

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