GOLCUK, Turkey — Hundreds of Turks who lost friends and family to last week's catastrophic earthquake buried victims Sunday, as relief workers rescued two of the last people believed to be alive in the ruins.
Across a 175-mile sweep of smashed houses and broken towns, the focus shifted from saving the living to remembering the dead. Bulldozers ripped into tumbled buildings and dug trenches for corpses. Families buried loved ones in sprawling cemeteries created overnight. Muslim elders, wearing surgical masks and latex gloves, offered the prayers.
Yet just as the last hopes of finding survivors seemed to die, word arrived that two women had been found alive beneath the rubble--more than five days after the earthquake struck.
In Golcuk, a 57-year-old woman disabled for two decades by a stroke was pulled from beneath a mass of metal and concrete. In Cinarcik, a team of Turkish, Bulgarian and Israeli volunteers announced that they had rescued a 52-year-old woman from beneath a collapsed building.
At another site in Golcuk, meanwhile, relief teams were working into the night to free an apparent survivor.
"We are going to keep digging as fast as we can," said Kamal Mutiu, a relief worker.
In other parts of the city Sunday, events did not go so well. Early in the day, relief workers exulted upon hearing a voice deep in the rubble--only to find, six hours later, a woman dead.
"We had hope, but not anymore," said Ruham Atalay, a rescue worker standing next to a mountain of concrete.
Amid the turmoil, Turkish leaders struggled to give focus to their roundly criticized attempt at relief. Workers poured lime into gutters and graves to fend off rats. Soldiers pitched tents and dug latrines. The police announced the first arrests of looters. The Interior Ministry even ordered nightclubs to stop playing music out of respect for the dead.
"I want to tell my people that there will be better coordination among the state institutions," a grim-faced President Suleyman Demirel said at a news conference. "We will follow movements under the earth better. We will make constructions strong."
Even though the official death tally held almost steady Sunday at 12,134, Turkish authorities continued to predict that the final count could exceed 40,000. The quake, shaping up as one of the worst in recent history, measured 7.4 and flattened thousands of buildings in the country's industrial belt east of Istanbul. More aftershocks rattled the region Sunday, and a mild tremor struck the eastern province of Elazig. Turkish officials reported no injuries or damage.
Across the region, survivors who came together to bury the deceased often did so in hurried, makeshift ceremonies amid the clamor of bulldozers and trucks. Just outside Golcuk, on a hilltop overlooking the town, the Tekinek family gathered to mourn the deaths of their own. They knelt over the freshly dug graves, sprinkled them with rocks for good luck and wailed to their God to bring the victims back.
Selahattin Tekinek stood to one side. In a house full of 11 of his relatives, only his nephew--7-year-old Ismail--survived. The boy's parents and grandparents perished in the quake.
"He doesn't know his family is dead," Tekinek said.
Like most of the 200 burials at the cemetery Sunday, those of the Tekinek family members passed quickly and with little of the ritual that typically surrounds Muslim funerals here. The reason for the haste was an edict by the Turkish government, which decreed that rotting corpses posed a health risk that overrode the families' needs. The surviving Tekineks pledged to erect a more formal grave site for their lost relatives, but some funerals passed with hardly a trace of formality.
Under an afternoon sun, Mahmut Aral stood above a trench that contained the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law. Both were wrapped in white plastic sheets. A bulldozer, which had dug the grave only minutes before, brought a load of dirt to fill it in. Aral jammed two wooden headstones into the grave, said a quick prayer and walked back to his truck.
"I have to find their children," he said as he drove off.
The government's order to bury the bodies swiftly--whether they were identified or not--seemed to ensure that many families will face difficulties in discovering the fate of their relatives. Several graves at the Golcuk cemetery were marked "unknown," while others bore no inscription at all.
Outside a collapsed apartment building in the town of Ihsaniye, rescue workers said they had no idea how many people were trapped inside--maybe five, maybe 50. Many of the relatives maintaining a vigil outside said they didn't know if their kin were inside either. They roundly criticized the government's decision to quickly bury the bodies, saying it might mean that their loved ones had already been put underground.
"I may never know what happened to my uncle," said Ahmet Birdal, a fruit picker who was out of town when the earthquake struck.