Five days after a strong earthquake hit Izmir, the hope of rescuing people alive was slowly fading away. Then, little Ayda was found alive after 91 hours. Hope was renewed.

IZMIR —  On the morning of November 3, a large crowd in Izmir's Bayrakli neighbourhood fell silent, as emergency workers asked them to lower the noise to allow them to hear calls for help from a massive mound of rubble — an outcome of last Friday's devastating earthquake that shook the entire province, killing 100 people (as of Tuesday) and injuring 900 others. 

The emergency workers even turned their machine engines off in the hope of hearing someone's cry for help. The crowd waited anxiously, holding their breath. A few minutes later, the rescuers heard "I'm here," a voice confirming someone was alive underneath the tangled debris. 

A four-year-old girl named Ayda Gezgin was pulled out from a heap of cement slabs and iron rebars. Onlookers and rescue workers burst into spontaneous applause. 

With a smile on her face, Ayda asked for water and Ayran, a Turkish yoghurt drink. She had spent 91 hours under the rubble. 

The crowd displayed a mix of emotions: some cheered, some clapped, while others couldn't hold their tears in the praise of God. Ayda was taken to an ambulance through a human corridor. 

“Every living being we found alive is a reminder that there is still life out there. When we reach a point that we feel totally exhausted, it’s giving us life (power),”  Ibrahim Topal tells journalists on the spot. “Now we feel as if we haven’t worked for days.”

In this photo, rescue workers congratulate each other after saving Ayla, a four-year-old girl who was trapped under the rubble for 91 hours after a strong earthquake hit Izmir on Friday, October 30, 2020. The photo was taken on November 3, 2020, Izmir, Turkey.
In this photo, rescue workers congratulate each other after saving Ayla, a four-year-old girl who was trapped under the rubble for 91 hours after a strong earthquake hit Izmir on Friday, October 30, 2020. The photo was taken on November 3, 2020, Izmir, Turkey. (Bilge Nesibe Kotan / )

For Topal, who was among the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) team that rescued Ayda, hope has not yet faded away. 

Rescuers say every minute after the first 72 hours of a building collapse is critical for those who might still be alive under the rubble. Ayda renewed all hope. Along with her, forty-nine people were found alive under the collapsed Rizabey apartment building. Several families waiting outside since Friday now wonder if their loved ones are also alive. The country still holds the memory of a past 'miracle', when a seven-year-old was rescued on the 7th day of a catastrophic earthquake with the magnitude of 7.5 in 1999.

There is a Quranic verse that says “If anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole humanity,” another rescue worker from the team says. “Everytime we saved a life, it’s like we saved the whole humanity.”

Topal’s team also saved a dog the previous day but he says the community spirit and collective effort of all rescue workers must be praised. 

After four days of relentless work, the rescuers are tired. Some of them have been working for more than 90 hours. With Ayda’s rescue, their spirits were rekindled and the entire scene was filled with a festive mood. They hugged and congratulated each other. No one talked about how tired they were.

Altar the rescue dog helped emergency workers in searching the earthquake survivors stuck under the rubble on November 3, 2020, Izmir, Bayrakli.
Altar the rescue dog helped emergency workers in searching the earthquake survivors stuck under the rubble on November 3, 2020, Izmir, Bayrakli. (Bilge Nesibe Kotan / )

Rescue efforts are still ongoing in three other buildings in the city. Soon after the calamity hit Izmir last Friday, hundreds of volunteers rushed to the city from all over Turkey. 

On the ground, AFAD, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management, has been coordinating various groups of emergency workers, arranging shifts and ensuring safety. 

Speaking to TRT World Ebru Aydin, who heads the National Medical Rescue Team, says at least 10 people are likely to be under the rubble of the Rizabey building alone. 

Some volunteers put their day jobs on hold in order to help the emergency workers in Izmir. Deniz Gergin, 28, works in the private sector. He rushed to Bayrakli to join the rescue efforts.

“When I heard the news, I felt terrible. I knew I had to come here,” Gergin tells TRT World. 

He spent the entire night rummaging through the rubble until his teammates took over. Their efforts translate into the rescue of Ayda and many others. 

“We saw a space and thought there might be someone,” Gergin says, describing the events that led to Ayda's rescue. 

The space between the oven and kitchen cabinet is described as a “triangle of life”, he says, adding that some rescue workers believe the space could help people survive major earthquakes, and Ayda was found in a similar space. 

Ahmet Celik, the IHH rescue worker who brought Ayda out of the rubble pointed to the importance of the triangle that saved one life today. 

“Now I have to go back, there might be more living beings waiting to be saved,” he says.

Source: TRT World