Scramble in Turkey to find survivors as quake death toll reaches 29

Updated January 26, 2020


THIS handout picture shows President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looking on as rescue workers clear debris of a collapsed building in Elazig city, Turkey, on Saturday.—AFP
THIS handout picture shows President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looking on as rescue workers clear debris of a collapsed building in Elazig city, Turkey, on Saturday.—AFP

ELAZIG CITY (Turkey): Rescue workers raced against time on Saturday to find survivors under the rubble after a powerful earthquake claimed at least 29 lives and left more than 1,200 injured in eastern Turkey.

The magnitude 6.8 quake struck on Friday evening, with its epicentre in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in Elazig province, and was felt across neighbouring countries.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cancelled a speech in Istanbul and headed to Elazig where he attended the funeral of a woman and her son.

He vowed the state would do “everything we can” to help those affected in a disaster he described as a “test”.

Pakistan offered to help the Turkish government in its efforts to rescue the survivors and provide relief to the other affected people. Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa expressed condolences over the deaths in the calamity.

The Turkish government’s disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said 42 people had been rescued alive from collapsed buildings in Elazig.

Islamabad offers to assist Ankara in its relief operations

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said earlier in the day that 22 people were estimated to be trapped under the rubble.

Turkish news channels showed live images of people rescued. Among those found alive was a woman called Azize who had contacted emergency authorities and spoken to a rescue worker by telephone, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Environment and Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum told reporters in Elazig that five buildings collapsed while others were badly or lightly damaged.

Nearly 2,000 search and rescue personnel were sent to the region while thousands of beds, blankets and tents have been provided, the presidency said.

The rescue efforts have been taking place in freezing temperatures as wood and plastic were burned to keep crowds warm.

Hundreds of people were anxiously waiting on the other side of police barriers near a collapsed building, including a man who gave his name as Mustafa.

“I have three relatives in that building: one man, his wife and her mother. They are still under the rubble,” the 40-year-old man said.

“I was home during the earthquake. It lasted for so long, it was like a nightmare. I froze in the living room when it happened, my wife and our two children were screaming and running around,” he said.

He added that some neighbours jumped out of the windows in panic as families including his were forced to spend Friday night on the streets.

Pakistan’s offer

Islamabad’s assistance offer was made by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in a telephonic conversation with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavusoglu, added Baqir Sajjad Syed in Islamabad.

Mr Qureshi condoled with Mr Çavusoglu over the deaths and offered to send a field hospital and rescue teams to help in the rescue and relief operations in Turkey.

The foreign minister said that Pakistan was ready to extend all possible assistance to Turkey “in this difficult time”.

The Turkish minister, while thanking Mr Qureshi for the offer, said they would let Pakistan know about any such requirement.

Prime Minister Khan said he was “deeply saddened by the loss of so many precious lives and of hundreds injured in Turkey’s earthquake. Our thoughts and prayers are with the brotherly people and government of Turkey. Pakistan stands by them and is ready to lend any assistance in this hour of need”.

Chief of the Army Staff Gen Bajwa also offered condolences to Turkey. In a statement, the Inter-Services Public Relations said an army contingent, including a Special Rescue and Relief team with field medical facilities, was ready to assist the Turkish government deal with the crisis.

Meanwhile, a statement from the Foreign Office said: “As always, the people of Pakistan equally share the pain of their Turkish brothers and sisters and stand by them in this hour of grief.”

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2020