Israeli girl recovering after four days in quake rubble

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JERUSALEM — Excited by all the attention, a 9-year-old Israeli girl smiled from ear to ear in her hospital bed this week as she recovered from spending for four days under a building that collapsed in Turkey's earthquake.

"I feel OK," Shiran Franco told reporters Sunday from her bed in Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer. "I've gotten a shirt and a big container of cola and a little teddy bear, and some other presents that I don't like as much."

Franco and her family were vacationing in Cinarcik, a small resort town about 30 miles from Istanbul, when the 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday of last week.

Shiran's twin brother Arieh, who was asleep in the same room as she was when the earthquake struck, was found dead. Israeli teams also recovered the bodies of Shiran's father and grandparents.

Shiran survived 98 hours without eating, drinking or moving. Experts say people trapped in such situations usually can survive only 72 hours because of dehydration.

The miracle of her recovery began at about 4 a.m. Saturday, when members of an Israeli rescue team, exploring the wreckage of a seven-story apartment building, heard faint calls of "help me" in Hebrew.

All machinery was shut off and everyone tried to locate where the sounds were coming from. Once pinpointed, the teams began digging until they discovered an air pocket created by slabs of concrete, about 33 feet under the ruins.

Israeli Maj. Eran Magen, who first spotted Shiran, said he decided to drill a hole in what he believed was the room in which the children had been sleeping.

"I drilled a hole and looked inside, and thought I saw a hand," Magen said. "I yelled down, and I think was answered. I ordered everyone to turn off the [drilling] equipment. From there, everything started moving quickly."

The soldiers poured water over Shiran's head, and Dr. Eugene Leibovitz, the Israeli Defense Force pediatrician on site, gave her a quick exam, looking into her mouth and throat. She was extremely dehydrated.

After being brought out of the rubble, Shiran asked the rescuers, "Do you have a Coca Cola with…" But she tailed off at the end of the sentence.

"With lemon?" one of the rescuers asked.

"No," she answered. "With a can and a straw, or maybe a bottle."

Shiran's mother Iris, who had crawled her way out of the rubble Wednesday of last week, had been standing by chain-smoking and silently watching the rescue team at work. When her daughter was found she was brought forth, and crouched over the girl, wringing her hands.

"What took them so long?" whispered Shiran.

"Everyone was trying their hardest," responded her mother.

As Shiran was taken away on a stretcher, Iris broke down in tears.

"I had already lost hope," Iris later told reporters. "I thought to myself — no one, but no one, will ever come out of these ruins."

The reunited mother and daughter were flown back to Israel later Saturday.

"Right now she seems to be in good condition," said Dr. Zohar Barzilay, head of the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit, on Monday.

"She acts like she doesn't know what happened. She doesn't mention the earthquake. She remembers that the family went for a vacation in Turkey and then there is a black hole in her memory."

Family members said Shiran thought she had been in a car accident. Barzilay said her doctors decided to "postpone reality" and wait a day or two, until she is physically stronger, to discuss the trauma with her.

The Franco family, originally from Turkey, was one of at least three Israeli families vacationing in Cinarcik, which offers sandy beaches and easy access to thermal springs used in Roman times.