Miracle rescues as Turkiye-Syria quake toll passes 25,000

Published February 11, 2023
Residents walk along destroyed buildings, as search and rescue operations continue days after a deadly earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, in the town of Jindayris, in the rebel-held part of Syria’s Aleppo province, on February 10. — AFP
Residents walk along destroyed buildings, as search and rescue operations continue days after a deadly earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, in the town of Jindayris, in the rebel-held part of Syria’s Aleppo province, on February 10. — AFP
This aerial view shows collapsed buildings during the ongoing rescue operation in Kahramanmaras, the epicentre of the first 7.8-magnitude tremor five days ago, in southeastern Turkey, on February 10. — AFP
This aerial view shows collapsed buildings during the ongoing rescue operation in Kahramanmaras, the epicentre of the first 7.8-magnitude tremor five days ago, in southeastern Turkey, on February 10. — AFP
This satellite image obtained on February 10, 2023, courtesy of Planet Labs, Inc. shows a SkySat image captured on February 9, 2023, showing the city of Kahramanmaras after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southeastern Turkey earlier in the week. — AFP
This satellite image obtained on February 10, 2023, courtesy of Planet Labs, Inc. shows a SkySat image captured on February 9, 2023, showing the city of Kahramanmaras after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southeastern Turkey earlier in the week. — AFP
This satellite image obtained on February 10, 2023, courtesy of Planet Labs, Inc. shows a SkySat image captured on April 3, 2021, showing the city of Kahramanmaras, southeastern Turkey. — AFP
This satellite image obtained on February 10, 2023, courtesy of Planet Labs, Inc. shows a SkySat image captured on April 3, 2021, showing the city of Kahramanmaras, southeastern Turkey. — AFP

Rescuers pulled a two-month-old baby and an elderly woman from the rubble on Saturday, five days after an earthquake devastated Turkiye and Syria, leaving more than 25,000 dead.

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

However, Austrian soldiers and German rescue workers called off their searches in southern Hatay, citing a difficult security situation and clashes between local groups, without giving further details.

In the midst of overwhelming 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 rubble 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 shared 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, plus a four-year-old and her father, were among those rescued five days after the quake, Turkish media reported.

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

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

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

‘Clashes between groups’

Turkiye’s disaster agency on Saturday said nearly 32,000 people from Turkish bodies are working on search and rescue efforts. In addition, there are 8,294 international rescuers.

However, Austrian soldiers on Saturday suspended rescue operations in Hatay over a “worsening security situation”, an army spokesman told AFP.

Two dog handlers later resumed work under the protection of the Turkish army.

A similar decision to halt rescue operations was taken in Germany by the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (TSW) and an NGO specialising in helping victims of natural disasters, ISAR Germany, according to an NGO spokesman.

“There are more and more reports of clashes between different factions, shots have also been fired,” said ISAR spokesman Stefan Heine.

The UN rights office had on Friday urged all actors in the affected area — where Kurdish militants and Syrian rebels operate — to allow humanitarian access.

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

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.

World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus arrived on Saturday in the quake-stricken city of Aleppo, state media reported.

Tedros said he was accompanying “emergency medical supplies of around 37 metric tonnes”.

The Syrian government said it had approved the delivery of humanitarian assistance to quake-hit areas outside its control.

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

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

The winter freeze has left thousands of people either spending nights in their cars or huddling around makeshift fires that have become ubiquitous across the quake-hit region.

Anger builds

Five days of grief and anguish have been slowly building into a rage at the poor quality of buildings as well as the Turkish 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.

“Damage was to be expected, but not the type of damage that you are seeing now,” said Mustafa Erdik, a professor at Istanbul-based Bogazici University.

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

Turkiye’s justice ministry has ordered prosecutors in the 10 provinces to establish special “earthquake crimes investigation offices”.

Officials and medics said 21,848 people had died in Turkiye and 3,553 in Syria. The confirmed total now stands at 25,401.

Opinion

Editorial

Kindness needed
Updated 20 Jun, 2024

Kindness needed

This year’s World Refugee Day theme — solidarity with refugees — includes keeping our borders accessible and addressing the hurdles they face.
Fitch’s budget note
20 Jun, 2024

Fitch’s budget note

PAKISTAN’S ongoing economic crisis is multifaceted. At one end, the government must pursue stabilisation policies...
Cruelty to animals
20 Jun, 2024

Cruelty to animals

TWO recent incidents illustrate the immense cruelty many in this country subject voiceless animals to. In the first...
Price bombs
Updated 18 Jun, 2024

Price bombs

It just wants to take the easy route and enjoy the ride for however long it is in power.
Palestine’s plight
Updated 17 Jun, 2024

Palestine’s plight

While the faithful across the world are celebrating with their families, thousands of Palestinian children have either been orphaned, or themselves been killed by the Israeli aggressors.
Profiting off denied visas
Updated 19 Jun, 2024

Profiting off denied visas

The staggering rejection rates underscore systemic biases in the largely non-transparent visa approval process.