Ghanaian footballer Atsu’s body found under Turkey quake rubble

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Christian Atsu [File: Jason Cairnduff via Reuters]

The 31-year-old had been missing since the February 6 disaster following the collapse of an apartment building in Hatay.

Ghanaian footballer Christian Atsu, 31, has been found dead in southern Turkey under the rubble of the building he lived in, after last week’s massive earthquakes, his Turkish agent and club said on Saturday.

The former Premier League player, who joined Turkish club Hatayspor last year, had been missing since the February 6 earthquakes devastated southern Turkey and northwestern Syria.

“Atsu’s lifeless body was found under the rubble,” agent Murat Uzunmehmet told reporters in Hatay.

“Currently, more items are still being taken out. His phone was also found.”

Search teams recovered Atsu’s body in the ruins of Ronesans Residence, a luxury 12-storey building where he had been living, in the city of Antakya in Hatay province.

The building’s contractor was arrested at Istanbul airport last week while apparently trying to leave the country for Montenegro, according to state news agency Anadolu.

Atsu had been scheduled to fly out of southern Turkey hours before the earthquakes, but Hatayspor’s manager said on Friday that the Ghanaian opted to stay with the club after scoring the winning goal in a Super Lig match on February 5.

Ghana’s ministry of foreign affairs said it had “received the unfortunate news”.

“The elder brother and twin sister of Christian Atsu and an officer of the (Ghanaian) embassy were present at the site when the body was recovered,” the ministry said in a statement.

Atsu joined Hatayspor last September after spells with English Premier League clubs Everton, Chelsea and Newcastle United.

There were initial reports that Atsu had been rescued a day after the quakes, but these turned out to be false.

‘We will not forget you’

Tributes poured in for Atsu on social media, including heartfelt messages from his former clubs.

“We will not forget you, Atsu. Peace be upon you, beautiful person. There are no words to describe our sadness,” Hatayspor said on Twitter.

Newcastle described him as “a talented player and a special person, he will always be fondly remembered by our players, staff and supporters”.

Atsu won 65 caps for Ghana and helped them reach the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations final, where they lost to Ivory Coast on penalties. He was last selected to play for Ghana in 2019.

“We would like to express our deepest condolences to his wife and children, the family, loved ones and the football community,” said the Ghana Football Association.

He joined Chelsea from Porto in 2013 and had several loan spells at clubs including Vitesse and Bournemouth.

“Chelsea sends our heartfelt condolences to Christian’s family and friends and to all those affected by the earthquake tragedy,” the London club said.

Everton also released a statement on Twitter, saying the club was “deeply saddened” by the news of Atsu’s death.

“Our thoughts are with his family, friends, colleagues at Hatayspor and everyone affected by this tragic event that has claimed so many lives,” they said.

More than 45,000 people have been killed in the earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria, and the toll is expected to rise further with some 264,000 apartments in Turkey destroyed and many people still missing.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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