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Turkish excavators search in rubble where Canadian woman last heard from

Samar Zora had arrived in the ancient city, once known as Antioch, just a day before the earthquake

Excavation equipment started moving rubble Monday at the scene of destruction where a Canadian woman was last heard from during a massive earthquake in Turkey, her brother said.

The Feb. 6 earthquake has killed more than 35,000 people and has turned large portions of cities in Turkey and Syria into heaps of concrete and twisted metal.

Manaf Zora had said earlier he planned to fly to Istanbul early next week, rent a truck and jackhammers and make his way to the southern Turkish city of Antakya to assist in excavations if his sister Samar Zora still hadn’t been found.

However, Zora said from Halifax that local search teams started digging during the day at the scene in Antakya. The search went on for eight hours before it ended for the night at 10 p.m. local time.

He said the excavators were lifting pieces of the five-storey building where his sister had been staying — and from where she’d made calls as the tremors were rippling through the city.

The 44-year-old Halifax resident said he and his brothers intend on “bringing our sister back no matter what,” adding that the family thinks she is either lying hurt in a hospital, or “didn’t make it.”

Zora’s brothers Saad and Muthana flew to Turkey last week and have been camping out near the building in Antakya where their sister was living. He said they have also been visiting local morgues and hospitals in an attempt to find her.

He said his sister had arrived in the ancient city, once known as Antioch, just a day before the earthquake to carry out doctoral research in anthropology.

“She was on the first floor talking to a friend when the phone was cut off and we never heard back anything from her at all,” he said.

Zora said that whatever results from the excavation begun Monday, he will still go to join his brothers in Turkey, either to continue searching or to help identify his sister.

The family has expressed frustration about limited help offered by the Canadian Embassy in Turkey in their quest to find the missing woman.

Zora said his family received word from Global Affairs Canada that Canadian officials would get back to them in several days, but they felt the response was too slow.

“It took me and my brothers four days to get in contact with them,” he said, adding his brothers heard from Global Affairs officials after CBC coverage about their search. A department spokesperson from Foreign Affairs wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The family of six siblings grew up in Halifax, and Zora said he often looked after his youngest sister when his parents travelled.

The geological engineer and hydrologist said he only learned about his sister being caught in the earthquake after he returned home on Thursday from working off the Dutch coast. “Hearing this about your sister, my legs weren’t lifting me. I had to sit down every 10 minutes,” he said.

International experts on earthquake responses have told The Associated Press that there is now very little chance of survival for people who were trapped in debris a week ago.

Eduardo Reinoso Angulo, a professor at the Institute of Engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the likelihood of finding people alive was “very, very small now.”

David Alexander, a professor of emergency planning and management at University College London, agreed. But he added that the odds were not very good to begin with.

He noted many of the buildings were so poorly constructed that they collapsed into very small pieces, leaving very few spaces large enough for people to survive in, Alexander said.

Many in Turkey blame faulty construction for the vast devastation, and authorities have begun targeting contractors allegedly linked with buildings that collapsed. Turkey has introduced construction codes that meet earthquake-engineering standards, but experts say the codes are rarely enforced.

—Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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