GAZIANTEP, Turkey — At first glance, there was little reason to expect that anyone was still alive in the ruins of the apartment building on Tuesday. The powerful earthquake that struck southern Turkey the day before had reduced its six floors to a hulking pile of concrete rubble.
And yet, there was hope.
The brother of a man who had lived on the fifth floor with his wife and their children was standing atop what remained of the roof, talking to his brother, Ibrahim Karapirli, who was trapped in the ruins below.
The results of the scattershot rescue operation that followed would be both heroic and tragic.
Across the huge expanse of territory in southern Turkey and northern Syria ravaged by the quake, countless attempts like this one unfolded on Tuesday by professionals and amateurs, using whatever tools were at hand, in hopes of finding survivors of a calamity that killed thousands of people and upended millions of lives.
A professional soccer player was pulled from the rubble in southern Turkey. In northwest Syria, a newborn found in a collapsed building appeared to be the only surviving member of her family.
The rescue effort in Gaziantep, a city in south-central Turkey near the epicenter of the 7.8-magnitude quake early Monday morning, pulled in dozens of people and drew hundreds of onlookers.
By midafternoon, the rescue workers on the roof had located the family and started the delicate process of cutting through concrete, metal and wood to reach them without making moves that would shift the debris, endangering those pinned below.
“Today it could have been us who needed help,” said Zuleyha Kulak, a construction engineer who had come to the site with about two dozen of her co-workers to put to use their experience moving heavy concrete.
The collapsed building sat across from a park on a street traversed by a tram in a middle-class neighborhood. A construction company and hairdresser had occupied the ground floor.
The building was more than two decades old, built before Turkey implemented stricter building codes designed to withstand earthquakes after a devastating tremor in western Turkey in 1999. That left the structure vulnerable when the quake hit.
While neighboring buildings had only surface cracks, the six floors of the apartment building had completely collapsed, leaving a pile of rubble that looked like a messy stack of books on its side.
It was not immediately clear how many people were inside at the time. But Macide Kurbay, an exporter for a yarn factory who had come with her husband to help out, tallied up 15, including the Karapirli family of six on the fifth floor. The fact that the rescuers were talking to them gave her hope.
“They are very close to saving that family,” she said. “But for the rest. …,” she added, her voice trailing off.
By Tuesday afternoon, a crowd of about 100 people stood in the street and on the tram tracks watching the rescuers work. The mood was somber, but with a glimmer of optimism that someone could still be found alive. One man handed out baklava. A restaurant nearby gave out free lentil soup in paper cups.
Among the crowd were relatives of people who lived in the building. One man in a black overcoat and muddy shoes paced back and forth, smoking cigarette after cigarette.
“My wife died and my son is still inside,” he said, on the verge of tears.
A woman wrapped in a purple shawl sat on a plastic yellow chair, waiting for news of her 90-year-old father-in-law, a retired timber salesman who had lived alone in the building. He had often complained to her that the building was “rotten,” she said, giving only her first name, Selda.
Her family had persuaded the rescuers to remove a concrete wall of what they thought was his room, she said. They had found his respirator and bed inside, but didn’t see him.
“That’s no way to die,” she said with pain in her voice as she looked up at the rubble.
On the curb sat relatives of Mr. Karapirli, his wife Pinar and their four children. Yasemin Aydin, Mr. Karapirli’s sister-in-law, recalled her panic after the quake had subsided.
“We kept phoning them, it rang and rang,” said Ms. Aydin, 41. “Then we ran here to check and the building was like this.”
She and others watching the workers said that no one had come to help the day of the quake, arriving only on Tuesday morning, more than 24 hours after the building collapsed.
“Yesterday there was nothing here, nothing done,” she said.
To locate the buried family, the workers drilled holes through concrete and shined a light through them to see whether the father trapped inside could see it, said Mehmet Ali Canakci, a voluntary rescue worker. On the third try, it worked.
The police then brought what he called a “snake camera” and got a glimpse of the father, he said.
As they removed debris to get closer to the family, the workers yelled down for a long metal hook, which was passed up to them. Later, they called for a small saw. Still later, a neck brace, some blankets and a child-size stretcher.
Every now and then, a rescue worker would yell “Silence!” and everyone would freeze and stop talking so the workers could hear the voice of the trapped father.
After dusk, a cheer went up from the roof and the crowd in the street joined in, yelling “God is great!” because the workers had reached the family.
About an hour later, another cheer rang out as two of the children, a pair of twins — a girl named Elcin and a boy named Eray Ahmet — were lifted out. The workers formed a line up the side of the rubble pile and passed the children from hand to hand down to the waiting ambulances.
Next out was the mother. The workers put her on a stretcher and lowered her to the street using a crane.
Finally came the father, wrapped in a shiny gold emergency blanket. When he reached the street, he was panting visibly in the frigid air, his two bare feet sticking out at the end of the stretcher.
In the crowd was Fatma Kaplan, a friend of his wife who had rushed to the scene in tears.
“We met when we were 7,’’ she said. “She is my heart.”
All the family members were taken to local hospitals. It was a remarkable rescue, but one that soon turned tragic.
Night was coming on and the crew had not yet found the other two children, the boys Enes and Erdem, ages 11 and 12. Nor had anyone heard their voices in the rubble.