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Rescue Workers Using Sniffer Dogs Search for Survivors

June 24, 1988

CATAK, Turkey (AP) _ Rescue workers dug in a 20-foot layer of mud and rocks Friday for about 100 people buried by a landslide, using sniffer dogs and dodging boulders that skittered down the mountain.

A truck driver and a resident were injured by the new rockslides that pelted down on what remains of this village in the rain-soaked mountains above the Black Sea port of Trabzon.

″It’s too soon to give up hope of finding people alive, but I think we will soon be discovering bodies,″ said Klaus Kolter, a member of the West German Rescue Dog Association helping in the search for victims of Thursday’s disaster. ″We’ll keep on trying.″

Rescue workers abandoned plans for an all-night search because of fears of a new, major landslide. The operation was to resume at dawn Saturday.

″here’s a risk that an entire hilltop could come crashing down in the same area. Cracks already have been observed but it’s not possible to predict when it might happen,″ said Erkan Omarbeyoglu, Turkey’s general director of highways.

He said that if a new landslide occurred during daylight hours, the rescue teams would have time to evacuate.

Three West German tourists were among those missing in the landslide, which residents of Catak blamed in inadequate buttressing of the walls of the highway that runs through the village.

Members of the West German team, wearing red coveralls, took 21 sniffer dogs over mounds of earth covering a coffeehouse, a restaurant, 20 homes and a high school that had been closed for summer vacation.

Earthmovers cleared loose debris and a team of 50 civil defense workers dug in spots where the reactions of the dogs indicated survivors might be trapped in air pockets beneath boulders.

More than 30 hours after hundreds of tons of mud and rock roared down on Catak, only one body had been recovered.

Villagers said at least 30 bus passengers were in the coffeehouse when the landslide occurred, having breakfast and while bulldozers cleared a rockfall that had blocked the highway the night before. Dozens more waited at the roadside, they said.

″My friends were in the coffeehouse, I’d gone back outside to see if the bus was ready to leave and I saw a telegraph pole slowly bending over,″ said Gaby Engeler, 28, a nurse from West Germany. ″I heard a noise like an explosion and the whole hillside came away in front of me.″

She identified her friends as Birgit Hastenteufel, a 25-year-old social worker, and Andreas Burghard, 28, a pharmacist. The third missing West German was identified only as Markus Mutter.

Enver Hizlan, the provincial governor, told reporters 26 Turks were listed as missing, but the number was likely to rise ″because the people involved were in transit″ and it would take time for relatives to contact authorities.

Catak is a straggling village of about 1,000 people bisected by the main highway from Trabzon to eastern Anatolia and Iran. It is in a region of hazelnut and cherry orchards about 20 miles from the Black Sea near the ruins of the Byzantine monastery of Surmela, a major tourist attraction.

The two-lane highwy was widened three years ago because of increasing truck and tourist traffic, but villagers said it was not buttressed properly.

″The retaining walls weren’t big enough and we started having landslides, not big ones but enough to block the road,″ said Riza Yavuz, the village headman.

He said construction teams tried to shore up the overhang, but ″three weeks ago the coffeehouse owner complained again to the public works people but he was told the highway was safe.″

Villagers were camping out in tents Friday and eating meals provided by the Turkish Red Crescent, the Moslem equivalent of the Red Cross. Many spent the day on an opposite slope watching the rescue efforts, some weeping as they waited for news of missing relatives.

″I keep telling myself he’s still alive, but when I look at the earth and the stones it’s hard to be convinced,″ said Hussein Aksoy, whose son Hassan is a driver and had stopped in the coffee house on his way back to Trabzon.

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