Airport VIP lounge becomes earthquake refuge in stricken Turkish city

GAZIANTEP, Turkey – Desperate survivors sought refuge in the airport near Turkey’s quake disaster zone on Tuesday, as hundreds of rescuers from more than 70 countries landed in the country.

As the search for survivors enters a critical phase, teams from Britain, Qatar and Israel were arriving at Gaziantep airport – near the epicentre of Monday’s devastating quake that left more than 8,400 dead and many still trapped in rubble.

Aware that disaster relief is now a race against time, international rescuers marched through the VIP lounge at the Gaziantep airport, with much-needed equipment and expertise.

Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has warned that the next 48 hours would be “crucial” in the hunt for survivors, with temperatures barely above freezing.

With survivors scared to return to their homes after the devastating magnitude-7.8 tremor, the airport has become a refuge for many.

About 100 people wrapped in blankets slept in one lounge of the terminal normally used to welcome Turkish politicians and celebrities.

The local authorities have banned people from staying in apartment blocks because of the many aftershocks hitting the region.

Mr Mustafa Ehianci, a 20-year-old student, was among those huddled in the airport’s VIP lounge, along with five members of his family.

He said he had been asleep when the first tremor hit on Monday.

“It was like a bad dream, a roller coaster,” he recalled.

“We were waiting outside when the second quake struck a few hours later. Now we are all terrified,” Mr Ehianci told Agence France-Presse.

“We are sleeping here, eating here. We are safe in this area, there is electricity and sewage.

“I don’t know when we will leave,” he said.

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