‘We thought they were dead’: Sisters rescued minutes apart


The air is filled with dust and smoke, the city marked with heaps of rubble – but there is evidence of life in Kahramanmaras.

At the Ehbra apartment block we saw an Israeli rescue team exploring part of the structure, and as we arrived, they had made a life-saving discovery.

A ripple of applause shot up and a young woman on a stretcher emerged from the gloom.

Her name was Zeyep Civi, a 22-year-old student who – like about everybody else in the building – was fast asleep when the earthquake struck.

She was dressed in polka-dot pyjamas and we could see she was shivering and crying after her three-day underground ordeal.

Turkey-Syria earthquake – latest: Turkey refuses aid from one country

“We’re here, we’re here, don’t be afraid,” said a paramedic, as she stared at the emergency workers surrounding her.

Her younger sister, Elif, followed in the next stretcher and was placed carefully inside a second ambulance.

The rescuers were elated, hugging and shaking hands while the Civi family embraced everyone in sight – including the Sky News crew. They had been keeping vigil here for the past 72 hours, hoping for a miracle.

In the space of a couple of minutes, they had been delivered two.

The scene in Kahramanmarsh., Turkey following the Earthquake

Burak Demir introduced himself as the girls’ cousin saying: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“They’ve been down there for a long time but did you still have hope in your heart?” I asked.

“We thought they were dead, we prepared (their) burial plot,” he replied.

The Israeli rescue in Turkey said the sisters’ survival owed much to a snippet of information picked up from an earlier success.

The scene in Kahramanmarsh., Turkey following the Earthquake

Golan Vach, a commander in the National Rescue Unit of Israel, told us how it happened.

“Yesterday we pulled out a man called Hussein, he was 65 years old, and he told us that he heard voices. We penetrated an additional room and we didn’t find anyone, but we decided to return to this building again. Maybe it was the right (decision), it was so not close (to Hussein) but we found the two women.”

There is so much to do and so many buildings to search in Kahramanmaras.

Read more:
Family trapped for more than 100 hours rescued from rubble
Why was the destruction to buildings in Turkey so catastrophic?
Which countries have offered to help and what aid are they providing?

The scene in Kahramanmarsh., Turkey following the Earthquake
For John Sparks copy

Just around the corner from the Israelis, working on the same building, we saw a group of local people picking at the rubble with spades, crow bars and ordinary car jacks.

Like the specialists from Israel, they were trying to find survivors and retrieve victims’ remains, but they did not have the equipment or the training to do the job.

The fact that they could smell, and in some cases, see bodies or parts of bodies in the rubble, did not mean they could reach them.

“What’s happening here?” I asked, as I looked at a line of volunteers, hacking at the concrete.

“We can smell the body but the body is lying on a bed so we’re trying to dislodge it,” said one with a shrug.

The scene in Kahramanmarsh., Turkey following the Earthquake

When retrieved from the rubble, victims make an undignified trip to a sports stadium for identification.

Some are carried by hand in black bags – others are put in the front of industrial diggers.

The injured go to local hospitals where every available space has been transformed into makeshift accident and emergency areas.

We met Kassim Civit, at Kahramanmaras’ University Hospital. He is a cousin of Zeyep and Elif and supports the young women on the ward.

“There are no injuries, they are just a bit bruised and they are cold.”

“Did they tell you about their experiences underground?” I asked.

“There was no light, they couldn’t understand if it was morning or night,” he said.

“I was going to that area of the building and calling for them, I called ‘Elif’ and ‘Zeyep’, but I couldn’t hear anything, however they could hear me and they were tapping on the wall (in response). But they were too far away.”

Specialists and supplies have started to arrive but they cannot meet the demand in this traumatised city.

There will be a special programme called Disaster Zone: The Turkey-Syria Earthquake on Sky News tonight at 9.30pm

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