Miracle rescues as Turkey-Syria quake deaths pass 28,000

Turkish president says authorities should've reacted faster after facing questions over response time

By
Reuters
A view of damage, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, February 11, 2023. — Reuters
A view of damage, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, February 11, 2023. — Reuters
  • Death toll 24,617 in Turkey, more than 3,574 in Syria.
  • Hundreds of thousands homeless in the middle of winter.
  • UN aid chief praises Turkey's quake response.


KAHRAMANMARAS, TURKEY: Rescuers pulled a two-month-old baby and an elderly woman from the rubble on Saturday, five days after an earthquake devastated Turkey and Syria leaving more than 28,000 dead.

But security concerns led some aid operations to be suspended, and 48 people have been arrested for looting or trying to defraud victims in the aftermath of the quake in Turkey, state media reported.

An aerial view shows damaged and collapsed buildings, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Hatay, Turkey February 10, 2023. — Reuters
An aerial view shows damaged and collapsed buildings, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Hatay, Turkey February 10, 2023. — Reuters

Tens of thousands of rescue workers are still scouring through flattened neighbourhoods despite freezing weather that has deepened the misery of millions now in desperate need of aid.

In the midst of destruction and despair, miraculous tales of survival continue to emerge.

"Is the world there?" asked 70-year-old Menekse Tabak as she was pulled out from the concrete in the southern city of Kahramanmaras - the epicentre of Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor - to applause and cries praising God, according to a video on state broadcaster TRT Haber.

In the city of Antakya, a two-month-old baby was found alive 128 hours after the quake, state news agency Anadolu reported.

A two-year-old girl, a six-month pregnant woman, and a four-year-old and her father were among those rescued five days after the quake, Turkish media reported.

In southern Turkey, families clutched each other in grief at a cotton field transformed into a cemetery, with an endless stream of bodies arriving for swift burial.

A woman packs a box with humanitarian aid for those affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria, at the Turkish embassy in Bogota on February 10, 2023. — AFP
A woman packs a box with humanitarian aid for those affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria, at the Turkish embassy in Bogota on February 10, 2023. — AFP

"There is chaos, rubble and bodies everywhere," he said. His group had worked overnight trying to reach a university teacher calling to them from the rubble. But by morning she had stopped responding to them, he said.

26 million people affected

Compounding the anguish, the United Nations has warned that at least 870,000 people urgently need hot meals across Turkey and Syria. In Syria alone, up to 5.3 million people may have been made homeless.

Almost 26 million people have been affected by the earthquake, the World Health Organization (WHO) said as it launched a flash appeal on Saturday for $42.8 million to cope with immediate, towering health needs.

It warned that dozens of hospitals had been damaged.

Turkey’s disaster agency said over 32,000 people from Turkish organisations are working on search and rescue efforts. In addition, there are 8,294 international rescuers.

In Turkey’s gourmet capital Gaziantep city, restaurants are working hard among tens of thousands of volunteers to help and feed families.

"We want to help," said Burhan Cagdas, owner of a local diner.

"Our co-workers are in a bad situation. Their families are victims and their houses are destroyed," said Cagdas.

His own family has been sleeping in cars since Monday in the city where at least 2,000 have died and tens of thousands have been forced out of unsafe homes.

Their Imam Cagdas restaurant is renowned for Alinazik aubergine and meat stew and they have served up to 4,000 free meals a day outdoors since the tragedy struck.

But some clashes have also been reported and the UN rights office on Friday urged all actors in the affected area — where Kurdish militants and Syrian rebels operate — to allow humanitarian access.

Austrian soldiers and German rescue workers called off their searches for several hours on Saturday in southern Hatay, citing a difficult security situation amid firing between local groups.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, considered a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies, has announced a temporary halt in fighting to ease recovery work.

And a border crossing between Armenia and Turkey opened for the first time in 35 years on Saturday to allow five trucks carrying food and water into the quake-hit region.

Medical aid for Aleppo

In Syria, where years of conflict have ravaged the healthcare system and parts of the country remain under the control of rebels, aid has been slow to arrive.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus took a flight full of emergency medical equipment into the quake-stricken city of Aleppo on Saturday.

Tedros toured damaged areas of the city tweeting: "I’m heartbroken to see the conditions survivors are facing — freezing weather and extremely limited access to shelter, food, water, heat and medical care".

Mourners attend the funeral of seven Cypriot students killed in a powerful earthquake that hit Turkey, on February 10, 2023 in Famagusta, in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet of northern Cyprus. — AFP
Mourners attend the funeral of seven Cypriot students killed in a powerful earthquake that hit Turkey, on February 10, 2023 in Famagusta, in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet of northern Cyprus. — AFP

Damascus said it had approved the delivery of humanitarian assistance to quake-hit areas outside its control in Idlib province and a convoy was expected to leave on Sunday — but the delivery was later postponed without explanation.

In the Syrian capital, the transport ministry said 57 aid planes had landed in the country this week.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged the Security Council to authorise the opening of new cross-border aid points between Turkey and Syria. The council will meet to discuss Syria, possibly early next week.

Turkey said it was working on opening two new routes into rebel-held parts of Syria.

Anger builds

In Turkey, five days of grief and anguish have been slowly building into a rage at the poor quality of buildings as well as the government’s response to the country’s worst disaster in nearly a century.

Officials in the country say 12,141 buildings were either destroyed or seriously damaged in the earthquake.

Mourners attend the funeral of seven Cypriot students killed in a powerful earthquake that hit Turkey, on February 10, 2023 in Famagusta, in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet of northern Cyprus. — AFP
Mourners attend the funeral of seven Cypriot students killed in a powerful earthquake that hit Turkey, on February 10, 2023 in Famagusta, in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet of northern Cyprus. — AFP

Turkish police on Saturday reportedly detained 12 people, including contractors, over collapsed buildings in the southeastern provinces of Gaziantep and Sanliurfa.

Officials and medics said 24,617 people had died in Turkey and 3,574 in Syria. The confirmed total now stands at 28,191.