GAZIANTEP, Turkey — At first glance, there was little reason to expect that anyone was still alive in the ruins of the Spring apartment building on Tuesday. The powerful earthquake that struck southern Turkey the day before had reduced its six floors to a hulking pile of concrete rubble.
And yet, there was hope.
The brother of a man who had lived on the fifth floor with his wife and their children was standing atop what remained of the roof, talking to his brother, who was trapped in the ruins below.
The results of the scattershot rescue operation would be both heroic and tragic.
Across the huge expanse of territory in southern Turkey and northern Syria ravaged by the quake, countless attempts were underway Tuesday by professionals and amateurs, using whatever tools were at hand, to find survivors of a calamity that killed thousands of people and upended millions of lives.
The rescue effort in Gaziantep, near the epicenter of the 7.8 magnitude quake, pulled in dozens of people and drew hundreds of onlookers, many of whom had fled their own damaged homes. By midafternoon, the rescue workers on the roof had located the family and started the delicate process of cutting through concrete, metal and wood to reach them without making moves that would shift the debris, endangering those pinned below.
“Silence!” a rescue worker yelled from the top of the rubble pile, raising his arms. Everyone watching from the street below fell quiet to allow the workers to hear the voices of the trapped family.
After dusk, a cheer went up from the workers on the roof and the crowd watching from the street joined in, yelling “God is great!” because the family had finally been reached.
It took more than an hour more to extract the survivors and get them down to the waiting ambulances safely.
The first to be freed were two children, twins who were almost 2 years old. The work crew formed a line down the rubble pile and cautiously passed them from hand to hand. Next out was their mother, who was put on a stretcher that was lowered to the street by a crane. Finally the father emerged, wrapped in a shiny emergency blanket and panting visibly in the frigid air, his two bare feet sticking out at the end of the stretcher. All four were taken to a hospital.
But the joy was muted. The rescuers had not found the other two children, both boys, nor even heard their voices.