Turkish quake death toll rises to 25

VAN, Turkey (AP) — Rescuers on Friday recovered the dead body of one of the two journalists missing underneath the rubble of an earthquake-shattered hotel as the death toll in the second earthquake to hit eastern Turkey in about two weeks rose to at least 25.

A colleague identified a body found in the rubble of the collapsed hotel in the eastern city of Van as that of Cem Emir, a reporter for the Dogan news agency, who had rushed to the region in the aftermath of a more powerful earthquake, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

A second reporter for the agency, Sebahattin Yilmaz, was still missing beneath the debris of the Bayram Hotel, one of the two hotels that fell apart when the 5.7-magnitude quake hit Van late Wednesday.

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

Emir, 26, worked at Dogan’s office in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast, and had won journalism prizes, the agency said.

Relief workers — who had arrived in the city to help survivors of the earlier, more powerful earthquake that hit the region on Oct. 23 — also 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 and eight employees of a company who were in Van to assemble temporary housing units for survivors.

Rescuers pulled out 13 bodies from the wreckage of the Bayram Hotel as well as the low-budget Aslan Hotel on Friday, raising the death toll to 25, according to state-run TRT television.

Authorities called off rescue operations at the Aslan by the late afternoon, but rescuers continued their search for possible survivors at the Bayram, their work made more difficult by heavy snow that began to fall in the evening.

It was not known Friday how many people remained buried in the rubble of the Bayram Hotel.

“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.

With even more people refusing to return to homes after the second quake, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said authorities were setting up thousands of more tents for the homeless. He said some of the quake survivors would be housed at state-run hotels around the country until the spring.

He urged citizens, meanwhile, to send heaters, blankets and food packages for the people of Van.

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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