Triple rescue joy for Turkish quake family

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Rescuers plucked a two-week-old baby girl, her mother and grandmother from the rubble of Turkey's devastating earthquake on Tuesday, sparking scenes of joy that electrified search efforts.

Crowds cheered and applauded as 73-year-old Gulzade Karaduman was carried into an ambulance, hours after her tiny grand-daughter Azra and then her daughter Seniha Karaduman were pulled free from the wreckage of the family home in eastern town of Ercis.

As the body bags piled up and the Red Crescent warned that hundreds or even thousands of people remained buried under the debris from Sunday's quake, the triple rescue provided vital relief joy amid the otherwise grim task.

"It is priceless to find someone alive and all my exhaustion is over," said Oytun Gulpinar, the leader of a team of rescuers who had arrived in Ercis after a 32-hour road journey from the western city of Izmir.

"I got to hold a 16-day-old baby, which is utterly priceless," he added.

Azra was brought out by Kadir Direk, the smallest member of the Izmir team, who described how he managed to squeeze through the debris and then scoop her off the lap of her mother.

"I was the happiest person in the world when I held her," said the pint-sized 35-year-old.

"When I took her from her mother, she asked me to give her a second name."

He chose Aysenur, combining the name of the Prophet Mohammed's wife and the word "light".

Emergency teams had earlier pulled a pregnant woman and her two children alive from the rubble in Ercis as they labored through the night under search lights with the help of sniffer dogs.

"Hundreds, possibly thousands of people are still trapped under the rubble," said Jessica Sallabank, a spokeswoman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The IFRC said that 2,256 buildings -- mostly apartments -- were destroyed during the quake which struck on Sunday afternoon with its epicenter in the eastern province of Van.

An update from the prime minister's office put the death toll at 370, adding that more than 1,300 people had been injured.

The population of the region is mainly Kurdish and the quake came amid a major army operation targeting the separatist PKK militia in response to a series of deadly attacks.

In a sign of the simmering ethnic tensions, dozens of residents of the provincial capital Van hurled stones at journalists and police on Tuesday after a well-known television presenter criticised Kurds' appeals for help.

Police used pepper gas to disperse the angry crowd, but there were complaints among survivors in other areas that soldiers whose barracks had been damaged were being given priority in the aid effort.

Residents meanwhile spent a second night outside in freezing temperatures.

"I am still trembling. ... As long as those aftershocks go on, we will stay in the street," Gulizar, a Kurdish woman in her 40s, told AFP as she tried to keep warm in front of a makeshift fire in Van city centre.

With night-time temperatures expected to dip to two degrees Celsius (36 Fahrenheit) and snow forecast for Wednesday, residents took shelter anywhere they could -- some in cars or tents and others under just a blanket.

One resident, named only as Nebahat, said: "We have no heater, we received no blankets, not even pain killers."

"We have been freezing all night, we only had three blankets which I managed to take from my home."

The football pitch in Ercis has been transformed into a sea of tents set up by the Red Crescent as the stadium serves as a makeshift field hospital. About 1,500 units of blood have been sent to the region.

The government said search and rescue teams from 45 cities and more than 200 ambulances were deployed across the disaster-struck area.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said 10 countries had offered to send emergency teams but the government had declined the offers for now.

The Turkish Red Crescent has sent some 7,500 tents, more than 22,000 blankets, almost 4,000 heaters and 1,000 body bags to the region. A mobile bakery and 21 mobile kitchens were also sent to Van.

In 1999, two strong quakes in northwest Turkey's heavily populated and industrialised regions left some 20,000 dead. A powerful earthquake in the town of Caldiran in Van province killed 3,840 people in 1976.

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