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Little girl rescued from rubble after 65 hours in Turkey as earthquake death toll hits 91

Earthquake hits Turkey and Greece
7.0 magnitude earthquake hits Turkey and Greece 04:10

Izmir, Turkey — Frantic search and rescue efforts continued Monday in Turkey's western city of Izmir, with the rescue of a little girl from the destruction caused by an earthquake three days earlier providing a glimmer of hope. But the toll was devastating; the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck on Friday morning had officially claimed at least 91 lives by Monday. Almost 900 more were injured, and many people were still missing.

Rescuers were still racing to reach survivors trapped under the rubble of five different apartment blocks in Izmir on Monday. Dozens of people remained missing, local rescue agencies said, and family members gathered around the crumbled buildings hoping for any sign of loved ones.

Rescue workers managed to pull a 3-year-old girl out of one levelled building, saving her after she was left trapped under rubble for 65 hours. Elif Perincek became stuck with her three siblings and her mother in their family home when the quake struck. Her mother and twin sisters were rescued earlier, but her 7-year-old brother died. 

Turkey: 3-year-old girl rescued 65 hours after quake
Elif Perincek, 3, is pulled from debris 65 hours after a major earthquake shook Turkey's Aegean Sea coast, in Izmir, Turkey, November 2, 2020. Istanbul Fire Authority/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Video on Turkish television showed rescue workers and TV reporters shedding tears of joy when the little girl was pulled from the crumbled concrete on Monday. But the agonizing wait continued for many other families.  

Yesim Emir, a 29-year-old dentist, was believed to be stuck under a collapsed 8-storey building. Fighting back tears, her mother Sibel Suruc told CBS News on Saturday that the family was clinging to hope, "praying she will come out alive."  

At least 106 people had been pulled out of the rubble alive by Monday, but there was still no sign of Emir.

The country's Disaster and Relief Agency said more than 5,700 personnel from state and local government agencies and civil society groups had joined the rescue efforts. Rescue workers were taking significant risks, sliding through cracks and climbing over of crushed concrete and steel of demolished buildings to reach survivors. 

Burak Galip Akkurt was among them. He said survivors of past disasters had been found alive even after five days buried under debris. 

"We never give up hope. It is for the team, but also those who are waiting outside," he said. 

Rescue operations take place on a site after an earthquake struck the Aegean Sea, in the coastal province of Izmir
Workers carry the body of a victim during rescue operations after an earthquake struck the Aegean Sea, in the coastal province of Izmir, Turkey, on November 1, 2020. KEMAL ASLAN / REUTERS

There were lucky escapes when the quake struck, as well. Zeki Soysal watched the building where he had a shop partially crumble in front of his eyes. He said he didn't care that he had lost his business and was "just grateful to be alive."   

More than 5,000 people were stuck living in tents, as at least 58 buildings had either collapsed or been critically damaged. Many residents were simply too fearful to return to their homes amid strong aftershocks. More than 1,000 aftershocks had been recorded by Monday following the initial temblor on Friday.

Schools in the city were to remain closed all week. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to "heal the wounds" of the disaster before winter arrived. 

Emergency accommodation in the form of a shipping container city was being built to accommodate at least 1,000 people.   

The epicenter of the quake was in the Aegean Sea, roughly 10 miles off the Turkish coast. The most severe damage occurred in Izmir, but two teenagers on Greece's Samos Island were also killed.

Turkey sits on active fault lines and has experienced major earthquakes in the past. A magnitude 7.5 earthquake killed more than 17,000 people in 1999.

Friday's earthquake struck as Turkey was already struggling to cope with a rising number of COVID-19 cases. Health minister Fahrettin Koca said he understood the difficulty of practicing social distancing in crowded tents and other temporary relief centers, but he still warned of the coronavirus threat.

"We urge all our citizens to continue carrying out precautions against the coronavirus pandemic," he said. "We cannot give in to the pandemic while we deal with the aftermath of the earthquake."

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