Fear of more earthquakes haunts Turkish rescuers trying to save survivors from the rubble

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Gaziantep, an ancient Turkish city badly damaged by the 7.8-magnitude quake that killed more than 2,600 people in the country and neighboring Syria, was brought to a standstill Monday by widespread destruction and panic, survivors told NBC News.

As rescue teams pulled the living and the dead from the rubble, government tourism official Resat Taman was trying to rebuff fast-spreading and unfounded rumors that another quake was about to strike, as the city it was still being shaken by some 130 aftershocks.

“Everyone says the next earthquake is coming and it will be very bad,” Taman said. «And this is really horrible. Because it’s not safe information and everyone is in a panic right now because of this stupid information.»

Taman said this fear is turning into a general sense of terror among those on the still shaky terrain of this city of 2 million as rescue and recovery operations continue and people have limited access to homes, property and services.

«I can tell that thousands of people (are) under the buildings and waiting to be rescued,» Taman said. «Now, in the cities, people can’t find gas, they can’t get money from banks. They can’t find anything in stores. Everyone is trying to find warm places to spend the night.»

Mother and daughter rescued by staff from under the rubble of a collapsed building in Kahramanmaras, Turkey. Kemal Ceylan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Taman, 35, is one of them. He, his wife, and his 5-year-old daughter had to flee their home because it was too dangerous to stay and found shelter overnight at a government facility. He said that some hotels and private businesses are also accepting earthquake refugees.

“It’s not enough because millions live in this area,” he said.

Taman said that growing up in Turkey, he has lived through several small earthquakes «but this one was really different.» He said he, too, is concerned about the aftershocks, which seem to occur every five minutes or so.

«We are very afraid,» he said. «Pray for Turkey. We really need your support.»

Ibrahim Furkan, a foreign trade expert living in Istanbul, was in Gaziantep with his mother to see the sights, including the famous castle named after the city, which was badly damaged in the earthquake. He said they were at his hotel when he hit and suddenly everyone was running to get out.

«We were sleeping, then we collapsed on the ground and when it stopped we left the building,» he said.

Within minutes, Furkan said, they and everyone else at their hotel had fled the building. And now, he said, they are trapped in a shattered city with no way to return home because all flights to Istanbul have been cancelled.

Istanbul is more than 500 miles northwest of where the quake struck and Sezer cem Tamer, 25, who lives there, said he didn’t even feel it.

But since the moment it happened, Tamer said he has been on the phone and on social media desperately trying to reach friends and family living in and around the small town of Hatay, which is about 70 miles southwest of Gaziantep.

«I’m fine, just worried about my friends,» Tamer said.

In particular, Tamer said he is worried about his friend’s father-in-law, Ömer Çokbilgi, who lives in a development where one of the buildings collapsed.

«G block was demolished where they lived, he lived in F block, still no contact,» Tamer said. «We are trying to support our friend by tweeting in the hope that someone will see it and contact us.»

Tugay Khamran, a 25-year-old university student living in Izmir, which is about 500 miles west of Gaziantep, was just one of thousands of young Turks who flooded into hard-hit areas on Monday to help with rescues.

Speaking from Kahramanmaraş, about 50 miles north of the quake’s epicenter, Khamran said survivors have been using social media to post the names and addresses of their missing loved ones in the hope that someone will search for or find them.

“I get more than 100 messages an hour,” Khamran said. «People are trying to find a way to make their voices heard on Twitter.»

Khamran said he was still on his way when a second earthquake struck a few miles north of Kahramanmaraş. When it was over, a city of 1.6 million people was in ruins, he said.

“Everyone in shock, unfortunately, everyone is looking for people they know,” he said. «Imagine a flat city with the whole city ruined.»

Khamran, who said he was part of a contingent of 500 volunteers searching for survivors, said they are not afraid of being trapped by falling debris.

“There is no risk because there are no buildings to demolish anymore,” he said. «We just pray for the citizens under the rubble.»

Mithil Aggarwal reported from London, Corky Siemaszko from New York City.

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