By Henriette Chacar and Issam Abdallah
ELBISTAN, TURKEY, Feb 13 (Reuters) – In the Turkish town of Elbistan, a young man sat on a pile of crumbling concrete and twisted metal, staring for half an hour at a small opening in the ruins of what once been his family’s home. .
I didn’t want to talk.
“His mother and sister are still under the rubble,” said neighbor Mustafa Bahcivan.
The stench of dead bodies wafted through the cold, dusty air in Elbistan, the epicenter of a powerful aftershock that hit hours after the devastating earthquake that killed more than 33,000 people in Turkey and neighboring Syria it a week ago.
As rescue teams continue to pull people alive from the rubble in some areas, freezing temperatures in Elbistan, located in a mountainous region in southeastern Turkey, make finding more survivors even more unlikely.
When Reuters visited the town on Sunday, residents were trying to salvage what they could from the destruction as bulldozer trucks dug through the rubble.
Bahcivan, 32, ran a mobile phone shop in an almost completely destroyed street. He said he went back to digging through the rubble in hopes of finding intact phones he could sell.
“This is our home,” Bahcivan said. “It used to be one of the busiest streets. Now it’s completely gone,” he said, as his wife and six-year-old son took refuge in a nearby cafeteria.
Up the street, four members of a family were climbing over another pile of rubble, trying to salvage their belongings.
“We just want food,” said Bilal Bolukbasi, the father. They formed a human chain, moving what they found in the rubble onto the sidewalk, where they had placed bags of frozen meat, cans of crushed tomatoes and jars of cereal.
Around town, residents marched with their phones in the air, documenting what was left.
“For the memory,” said a man.
A team of civil engineers walked along the main road. Savas Karabulut, a seismologist at Gebze Technical University, said they were examining the damage for an academic report.
By studying the rubble, the team aims to assess whether some of the newer buildings were built in violation of building regulations, he said, criticizing the government which he said had failed to keep heed warnings of a major earthquake.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Sunday that 131 suspects had so far been identified as responsible for the collapse of some of the thousands of razed buildings in the 10 quake-hit provinces.
A telecommunications engineer who had visited the damage in the area said Elbistan had been hit particularly hard.
“It’s like hell,” he said.
(Editing by Tom Perry and Christina Fincher, Edited in Spanish by José Muñoz in the Gdansk Newsroom)