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Turkish mother, 33, breaks down in tears as British rescuers pull her and her son from under rubble

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British volunteer rescuers have completed the miraculous extraction of a mother and her young boy from the rubble of their home in Turkey after they spent 68 hours unable to move. 

Serap Topal, 33, and her five-year-old son, Mehmet Hamza Topal, were trapped when their home in Kahramanmaras collapsed around them amid a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake earlier this week.

Kahramanmaras was just a few miles from the epicentre of the quake which demolished huge swathes of southeastern Turkey and northern Syria and killed more than 17,000, with the death toll expected to rise sharply.

Serap and Mehmet spent the best part of three days stuck in the pitch black, covered in dust and debris, with Serap sustaining crush injuries.

But they were saved from almost certain death by workers from SARAID, a group of British volunteers, and German outfit At Fire – both UN-class urban search and rescue teams.  

Serap Topal bursts into tears as she is hauled from the rubble by British, German and Turkish rescuers in Kahramanmaras early this morning

Serap Topal bursts into tears as she is hauled from the rubble by British, German and Turkish rescuers in Kahramanmaras early this morning

A rescue worker looks to the heavens in elation and delight after he rescued Mehmet Hamza Topal from the rubble of his collapsed home

A rescue worker looks to the heavens in elation and delight after he rescued Mehmet Hamza Topal from the rubble of his collapsed home

Serap was carefully strapped to a spinal cord stabilising stretcher having suffered injuries in the catastrophe

Serap was carefully strapped to a spinal cord stabilising stretcher having suffered injuries in the catastrophe

British rescuers in orange hold Serap steady as they gently pull her from the gap in the debris

British rescuers in orange hold Serap steady as they gently pull her from the gap in the debris

Tear-jerking footage of the moment they were rescued showed Serap bursting into tears as fatigue and relief overwhelmed her, while a volunteer was seen looking to the heavens in utter elation as he carried a seemingly unhurt Mehmet free of the debris.

Heart-wrenching images of Serap unable to hold back floods of tears as her rescuers gently lifted her from the wreckage and strapped her to a stretcher underscore the anguish felt by tens of thousands of Turks and Syrians.

Meanwhile, the sheer joy emblazoned across the face of the rescuer who clutched the five-year-old boy perfectly encapsulated the hope held by families, friends and aid workers that they will recover more survivors from the darkness.

But such hopes were fading Thursday as the death toll ticked beyond 17,000, with those trapped under the slabs of concrete and twisted metal now having spent more than 72 hours without food, water or in some cases oxygen. 

Most experts consider the three-day mark to be the limit for saving lives and the bitter winter weather, combined with the sheer scale of the damage, has severely hampered rescue efforts. 

A 33 year-old mother, Serap Topal and her 5 year-old son, Mehmet Hamza Topal are rescued by the German and British rescue teams from under the rubble after 68 hours of the 7.7 magnitude Kahramanmaras earthquake in Turkiye on February 09, 2023

A 33 year-old mother, Serap Topal and her 5 year-old son, Mehmet Hamza Topal are rescued by the German and British rescue teams from under the rubble after 68 hours of the 7.7 magnitude Kahramanmaras earthquake in Turkiye on February 09, 2023

This is the tiny hole in the rubble from which rescuers were able to extract Serap and her son

This is the tiny hole in the rubble from which rescuers were able to extract Serap and her son

Rescuers search for survivors in the town of Harim in rebel-held northwest Syria

Rescuers search for survivors in the town of Harim in rebel-held northwest Syria

Seven-year-old girl Ikra Tasci is rescued by Israeli army, Hatzalah United and Turkish rescue teams after three days under the rubbles of a collapsed building in the city of Kahramanmaras, southeastern Turkey, 09 February 2023

Seven-year-old girl Ikra Tasci is rescued by Israeli army, Hatzalah United and Turkish rescue teams after three days under the rubbles of a collapsed building in the city of Kahramanmaras, southeastern Turkey, 09 February 2023

The 7.8-magnitude quake struck as people slept early Monday in a region where many people had already suffered loss and displacement due to Syria’s civil war.

An official at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing told AFP that an aid convoy reached rebel-held northwestern Syria Thursday, the first since the earthquake that has left survivors sleeping outdoors due to aftershock risks.

A decade of civil war and Syrian-Russian aerial bombardment had already destroyed hospitals, collapsed the economy and prompted electricity, fuel and water shortages.

Temperatures in the Turkish city of Gaziantep meanwhile plunged to minus five degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit) early Thursday, but thousands of families spent the night in cars and makeshift tents, too scared or banned from returning to their homes.

Parents walked the streets of the city, close to the epicentre of Monday’s earthquake, carrying their children in blankets because it was warmer than sitting in a tent.

People walk past the bodies of victims stored at a sports hall in the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras

People walk past the bodies of victims stored at a sports hall in the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras

Dead bodies in bags lie on the floor in a cemetery morgue on February 09, 2023 in Hatay, Turkey

Dead bodies in bags lie on the floor in a cemetery morgue on February 09, 2023 in Hatay, Turkey

The White Helmet volunteers pull out a child from under rubble as they rescue him, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, in Jandaris, Syria February 8, 2023

The White Helmet volunteers pull out a child from under rubble as they rescue him, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, in Jandaris, Syria February 8, 2023

Some people have found sanctuary with neighbours or relatives. Some have left the region. But many have nowhere to go.

Gyms, mosques, schools and some stores have opened up at night. But beds are still at a premium and thousands spend the nights in cars with engines running to provide heat.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after mounting criticism online over the initial disaster response, visited one of the hardest-hit spots, Kahramanmaras, and acknowledged problems.

‘Of course, there are shortcomings. The conditions are clear to see. It’s not possible to be ready for a disaster like this,’ he said Wednesday.

Officials and medics said 14,351 people had died in Turkey and 3,162 in Syria from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the confirmed total to 17,513. Experts fear the number will continue to rise sharply.

‘We are now racing against the clock to save lives together,’ EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter.

Rescuers are seen carrying a young boy on a stretcher extracted after almost three days under the rubble

Rescuers are seen carrying a young boy on a stretcher extracted after almost three days under the rubble

Cranes haul huge chunks of debris from the remnants of a collapsed building

Cranes haul huge chunks of debris from the remnants of a collapsed building

Search and rescue efforts continue after 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes hit multiple provinces of Turkiye including Kahramanmaras, Turkiye on February 09, 2023

Search and rescue efforts continue after 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes hit multiple provinces of Turkiye including Kahramanmaras, Turkiye on February 09, 2023

The tragedy may be localised to Turkey and Syria, but aid organisations and governments from around the world have flocked to the region to offer their support and lifesaving expertise. 

Dozens of nations, including China and the United States have pledged to help, and search teams as well as relief supplies have already arrived.

In Brussels, the EU is planning a donor conference in March to mobilise international aid for Syria and Turkey.

The European Union said the conference would be held in coordination with Turkish authorities ‘to mobilise funds from the international community in support for the people’ of both countries.

The bloc was swift to dispatch rescue teams to Turkey after the massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country on Monday close to the border with Syria.

But it initially offered only minimal assistance to Syria through existing humanitarian programmes because of EU sanctions imposed since 2011 on the government of President Bashar al-Assad in response to his brutal crackdown on protesters, which spiralled into a civil war.

On Wednesday, Damascus made an official plea to the EU for help, the bloc’s commissioner for crisis management said.

The Turkey-Syria border is one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

Monday’s quake was the largest Turkey has seen since 1939, when 33,000 people died in the eastern Erzincan province.

In 1999, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake killed more than 17,000.

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