During an “agonizing” 10-minute wait, the jackhammers and excavators fell silent, traffic on a four-lane highway next to the pile of rubble came to a standstill with car engines switched off.
Rescuers who ordered the eerie hush went into a hole in an apartment block turned into a pile of concrete and steel pancakes with blankets and a pillow. They came out again with a body bag.
The scene has been repeated countless times in Nurdağı, a town of 40,000 people, where officials would not give a death toll but said there were definitely hundreds of fatalities.
Nurdağı was close to the epicenter of the 7.8-magnitude quake and with the death toll in Turkey and Syria now above 21,000, officials said the town and surrounding villages would find “significant” numbers of fatalities before the search was called off.
Bridges on main roads around Nurdağı collapsed and mosque domes fell to the ground in the quake.
Whole blocks of the once affluent rural town were flattened by the massive tremor.
Residents forced to live in tents or their cars watched in tears as emergency workers using drones and heat detecting monitors ordered silence when a potential survivor was found.
“The quiet is agonizing. We just don’t know what to expect,” Emre, a local resident, said as he waited next to one block on a main road into the town.
Four ambulances waited as the rescuers shouted into the rubble and prepared blankets and stretchers. “But mostly it is bodies that come out — our family and friends,” said Emre.
Hundreds of international rescuers from Qatar, Malaysia, Spain, Kazakhstan, India and other countries are in the town.
The 130-strong Qatar team rescued a 12-year-old boy and found a woman dead in her apartment within hours of starting work, a team official said Thursday.
The Gulf state was to open a 50-bed emergency hospital in the town on Thursday.
Their 70 Malaysian counterparts embarked on their heart-wrenching mission by pulling the corpses of a baby, its mother and another adult out of the rubble.
Malaysian team leader Mohamed Khairul Jamil said the “extreme” cold had worsened what was already the most difficult mission his rescuers had undertaken but “we prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
The international brigade expects to be in southern Turkey for two weeks.
Despite the cold, Nurdağı’s beleaguered residents wait well into the night outside their former homes as emergency teams and excavators work under floodlights.
One group of women sat on the team benches from a nearby football stadium staring at their former apartments where it was feared more than 10 bodies could be waiting.
“I won’t be leaving until we find out,” said one woman in her 70s who declined to give her name.
Two neighbors sat with her wrapped in blankets and in front of a blazing wood fire as they watched the diggers tear at the rubble.
Bodrum, a 20-year-old student from a nearby town, said he had headed to the block to find members of his mother’s family.
One was confirmed dead, he said, and one was missing.
© Agence France-Presse