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Turkey rescuers recall 921 earthquake mission in Taiwan

2012/09/23 10:33:00

Istanbul, Sept. 21 (CNA) Rescue teams from over 20 countries came to the aid of Taiwan 13 years ago when a deadly earthquake struck the island. Among them was a team from Turkey.

"I remember we had the biggest aftershock," said Cilasun Bayulgen, one of the Turkish rescuers, recalling a close escape during his team's three-day mission in Taiwan in 1999.

Bayulgen said he had just walked out of a collapsed 16-story building that his team was assigned to work on in central Taiwan's Changhua County, when a 6.8 aftershock rattled the earth, the biggest he has ever experienced in his career as a rescuer.

"We had some major aftershocks (in Taiwan), and they frighten you a lot when you are inside a partially collapsed building," Bayulgen told CNA in a recent interview in Istanbul.

But the technical training director of Turkey's AKUT Training and Research Institutte said the aftershocks did not stop him and the others from continuing their search for survivors.

"Helping someone just gives you a boost to do things that you don't normally do," said Bayulgen, who works full time as a veterinarian.

AKUT Search and Rescue Association, a non-government organization, was among the 38 rescue teams dispatched to Taiwan from around the world after the magnitude 7.3 earthquake on Sept. 21, 1999, which left more than 2,400 people dead, 11,000 injured and over 105,000 houses destroyed or damaged.

The Turkish team, which also consisted of rescuers from the Turkish government sector, had successfully pulled a middle-aged woman named Liao Su-ying from the rubble 50 hours after the quake. The news was widely covered by local media.

What made a lasting impression on the rescuers were the qualities of calmness and patience demonstrated by the Taiwanese people, even though the earthquake had torn buildings and roads apart.

"I was very surprised to see that the people who had their relatives inside the collapsed building were waiting outside the police ring quite patiently, they were quite calm," said Caglar Akgungor, who was a college student then and now serves as director of research at AKUT institute.

Akgungor still keeps an unopened bottle of Oolong tea and a package of soy milk that he received from a Taiwanese charity during his stay. He said the drinks remind him of Taiwan.

While in many countries rescuers had to share their food and supplies with disaster victims, people who survived the earthquake in Taiwan shared what they had with rescuers, Bayulgen said.

He recalled a man once made tea for the team and that people on the streets invited them to their homes for meals.

People from countries like Taiwan and Turkey that are located in earthquake zones must learn to live with disasters, said Dundar Sahin, director of the AKUT institute.

"There's no need to cry about it, there's no need to scream about it, there's no need to deny it, just accept it and know the possibilities, know the consequences and try to know what I can do to minimize the effect," Sahin said.

Akgungor, who specializes in disaster response, said all disasters can be prevented if disaster risk assessments and measurements are done correctly, adding that he hopes Taiwan has learned from the earthquake.

"I enjoy being in Taiwan, but I hope I will never be in Taiwan for a disaster. I wish I could be there just for tourism," Akgungor said.

(By Christie Chen)