March 4. 2024. 6:27

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Turkey earthquake death toll nears 3,000, countries worldwide mobilise aid


Rescue teams worked early on Tuesday (7 February) to release people trapped in the rubble of buildings in southern Turkey as the death toll in the country from a devastating earthquake a day earlier rose to nearly 3,000.

The magnitude 7.8 quake hit Turkey and neighbouring Syria early on Monday, toppling entire apartment blocks, wrecking hospitals, and leaving thousands more people injured or homeless.

Nearly 8,000 people have been rescued from 4,758 buildings destroyed in the tremors a day earlier, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said in its latest statement.

AFAD head Yunus Sezer said that 2,921 people had died in Turkey as aftershocks continued to shake the region. Another earthquake of 5.6 magnitude struck central Turkey on Tuesday, the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said.

Freezing winter weather hampered search efforts for survivors through the night. A woman’s voice was heard calling for help under a pile of rubble in the southern province of Hatay. Nearby, the body of a small child lay lifeless.

Weeping in the rain, a resident who gave his name as Deniz wrung his hands in despair.

“They’re making noises but nobody is coming,” he said. “We’re devastated, we’re devastated. My God … They’re calling out. They’re saying, ‘Save us,’ but we can’t save them. How are we going to save them? There has been nobody since the morning.”

Temperatures fell close to freezing overnight, worsening conditions for people trapped under rubble or left homeless.

In Kahramanmaras, north of Hatay, entire families gathered around fires and wrapped themselves in blankets to stay warm.

“We barely made it out of the house,” said Neset Guler, huddled around the fire with his four children. “Our situation is a disaster. We are hungry, we are thirsty. It’s miserable.”

The earthquake, which was followed by a series of aftershocks, was the biggest recorded worldwide by the US Geological Survey since a tremor in the remote South Atlantic in August 2021.

It was the deadliest earthquake in Turkey since a quake of similar magnitude in 1999 that killed more than 17,000. Nearly 16,000 were reported injured in Monday’s quake.

At least 1,444 people were killed in Syria and about 3,500 injured, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue workers in the northwestern region controlled by insurgents.

Poor internet connections and damaged roads between some of the worst-hit cities in Turkey’s south, homes to millions of people, hindered efforts to assess and address the impact.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, preparing for a tough election in May, called the quake a historic disaster and said authorities were doing all they could.

“Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts although the winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night makes things more difficult,” he said. He said 45 countries had offered to help the search and rescue efforts.

In the Turkish city of Iskenderun, rescuers climbed an enormous pile of debris that was once part of a state hospital’s intensive care unit in search of survivors. Health workers did what they could to tend to the new rush of injured patients.

“We have a patient who was taken into surgery but we don’t know what happened,” said Tulin, a woman in her 30s, standing outside the hospital, wiping away tears and praying.

In Syria, the effects of the quake were compounded by the destruction of more than 11 years of civil war.

A top UN humanitarian official said fuel shortages and the harsh winter weather were also creating obstacles to its response.

“The infrastructure is damaged, the roads that we used to use for humanitarian work are damaged, we have to be creative in how to get to the people … but we are working hard,” UN resident coordinator El-Mostafa Benlamih told Reuters in an interview via video link from Damascus.

In the government-controlled city of Aleppo, footage on Twitter showed two neighbouring buildings collapsing one after the other, filling streets with billowing dust.

Two residents of the city, which has been heavily damaged in the war, said the buildings had fallen in the hours after the quake, which was felt as far away as Cyprus and Lebanon.

Raed al-Saleh of the Syrian White Helmets, a rescue service in rebel-held territory known for pulling people from the ruins of buildings destroyed by air strikes, said they were in “a race against time to save the lives of those under the rubble.”

International solidarity

Governments and international organisations from around the world have responded with offers of support after the news of the earthquake broke on Monday morning.

European Union

European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič said the EU’s 24/7 Emergency Response Coordination Centre had been in contact with the Turkish authorities and had activated its emergency Copernicus satellite mapping service to help first responders working on the ground.

United States

US President Joe Biden wrote on Twitter he was “deeply saddened” by the lost of life and devastation in Syria and Turkey, adding: “I have directed my team to continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with Turkiye and provide any and all needed assistance.”

Britain

The government said 76 British search and rescue specialists with four search dogs and rescue equipment would arrive in Turkey on Monday evening and a British emergency medical team would assess the situation on the ground. It said London was in contact with the United Nations about support for Syria.

The United Arab Emirates

The UAE said it would set up a field hospital in Turkey and dispatch search and rescue teams to Turkey and Syria. It said it would provide urgent relief to Syria’s hardest-hit areas.

Bulgaria

Neigbouring Bulgaria was the first EU country to deliver aid, scrambling on Monday two military planes with specialized teams, doctors and equipment.

Spain

Defence Minister Margarita Robles said Spain was sending an A400 military plane with firefighters and equipment, along with an Airbus A330 with civil defence staff to work with rescuers.

Iraq

Iraq said it would send civil defence teams to Turkey and Syria with emergency and relief supplies, food and fuel.

Qatar

The government said it would start operating relief flights to Turkey on Monday to transport search and rescue teams to the affected zones along with vehicles, a field hospital, tents and other supplies, Qatar’s state news agency reported.

Pakistan

Pakistan said two C-130 planes would leave on Tuesday for Turkey, carrying relief and 36 search and rescue personnel.

Germany

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said Germany’s federal civil protection agency could provide camps with emergency shelters and water treatment units and that it was already preparing relief supplies with emergency generators, tents and blankets, in coordination with the Turkish authorities.

India

The government said two teams from India’s National Disaster Response Force comprising 100 personnel with specially trained dog squads and equipment were ready to be flown to the disaster area for search and rescue operations. Medical teams were being readied and relief material was being sent in coordination with the Turkish authorities.

Poland

Poland will send rescue group HUSAR consisting of 76 firemen and eight rescue dogs, Interior and Administration Minister Mariusz Kamiński said.

Taiwan

Taiwan’s fire department said a team of 40 rescuers along with three search and rescue dogs and four to five tonnes of aid would leave for Turkey on Monday. It previously said it was ready to offer a team 130 people, along with five search dogs and 13 tonnes of aid, and was awaiting Turkey’s response.

Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was ready to send support. “We are in this moment close to the friendly Turkish people, ready to provide the necessary assistance,” he said.

Russia

Russia’s emergencies ministry said two IL-76 aircraft with 100 rescuers were ready to fly out to Turkey if required.

President Vladimir Putin sent messages to Turkey and to Syria, where Russian troops have been supporting the Syrian military, expressing condolences to the presidents of both nations and offering support.

Greece

Greek Prime Minister Kyrikos Mitsotakis offered condolences and support to Turkey, saying Greece was mobilising its resources and will assist immediately.

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said all authorities have been instructed to make immediate preparations to provide medical, and search and rescue assistance. Israel also said that it had received a Syrian request for assistance with earthquake relief for the Arab state and that it was prepared to oblige, in what would be rare cooperation between the enemy neighbours.