A 3-year-old girl – her tiny body wrapped in a foil blanket, her face and hair caked in dust – wrapped her small hand around the gloved thumb of a rescue worker and looked him in the face with wide eyes.
Moments earlier, the child, Elif Perincek, had been brought to safety from the rubble of her home 65 hours after the collapse of her home in Izmir, Turkey, when a devastating earthquake struck the city, killing dozens of people and flattening buildings and apartment buildings.
Dozens of rescue workers, who had worked around the clock to clear her of the tangled rubble, applauded as she was carried on a coiled rope through crumbled concrete slabs to a waiting ambulance.
Muammer Celik, the firefighter Elif held on to his finger as she was lifted to the ambulance, told NTV Turkish news agency that it was “a true miracle” to find the child alive.
“There was dust on her face; Her face was white, ”he said. “When I removed the dust from her face, she opened her eyes. I was surprised.”
She clung to his hand during the rescue operation, he said, adding that the firefighters never gave up hope of finding her alive.
Nearly a thousand people were injured in the 7.0 magnitude quake. It was located in the Aegean Sea northeast of the Greek island of Samos, where two teenagers were killed when a wall collapsed.
The quake was felt throughout the region, but the worst of the devastation occurred in Izmir, about 200 miles southwest of Istanbul, Turkey’s third largest city, an earthquake-prone center for tourism and industry.
Rescue workers have been fighting against time for the past few days to rescue the dozen of people originally believed to have been trapped in the quake. Operations continued in eight buildings on Monday, the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority said in a statement.
The death toll reached 85 after rescue teams found more bodies in overturned buildings in Izmir overnight. At least 106 people have been rescued from the rubble since Friday, the state news agency Anadolu reported on Monday.
More than 7,800 search and rescue forces, as well as 25 sniffer dogs and heavy machinery, were deployed by the civil protection agency, local authorities and non-governmental organizations to support the response. Temporary shelters have been set up for the thousands of people displaced by the earthquake.
Elif wasn’t the only person who survived the collapse of her home in the Bayrakli district: her mother and two of her siblings were also pulled alive from the rubble on Saturday when the rescuers first arrived. Another sibling did not survive.
Rescue workers continued digging, digging through the rubble around the clock for two more days, determined to find Elif.
“God, thank you a thousand times,” wrote Mehmet Gulluoglu, who heads the Disaster and Emergency Management Agency, in a Twitter post early Monday when the news of Elif’s rescue came.
Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish President’s communications director, thanked the rescue workers in a post on Twitter for their “extraordinary efforts” to get the girl to safety.
Hours earlier, elsewhere in Izmir, another girl was rescued, the disaster and emergency authorities said. The Anadolu News Agency identified her as Idil Sirin, 14, and said she had received first aid and was taken to a hospital.