Turkish teenager pulled alive from rubble 10 days after quake

Published February 17, 2023
The uncle of Aleyna Olmez (C), reacts after the 17-year-old woman was rescued from a collapsed building, 248 hours after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake which struck parts of Turkey and Syria, in Kahramanmaras on February 16, 2023. — AFP
The uncle of Aleyna Olmez (C), reacts after the 17-year-old woman was rescued from a collapsed building, 248 hours after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake which struck parts of Turkey and Syria, in Kahramanmaras on February 16, 2023. — AFP

 A TEENAGE girl is being pulled alive from the rubble in Turkiye’s Kahramanmaras province 10 days after the Feb 6 earthquake.—Reuters
A TEENAGE girl is being pulled alive from the rubble in Turkiye’s Kahramanmaras province 10 days after the Feb 6 earthquake.—Reuters

KAHRAMANMARAS: A teenage girl was pulled alive from the rubble in Turkiye on Thursday more than 10 days after a devastating earthquake hit the region, but such rescues have become increasingly rare, leaving sorrow and anger to mount as hope dies.

The 17-year-old was extracted from the ruins of a collapsed apartment bloc in Turkiye’s southeastern Kahramanmaras province, broadcaster TRT Haber reported, 248 hours since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck in the dead of night on Feb 6.

Footage showed her being carried on a stretcher to an ambulance covered with a gold-coloured thermal blanket.

The quake killed at least 36,187 in southern Turkiye, while authorities in neighbouring Syria have reported 5,800 deaths — a figure that has changed little in days.

UN launches $1bn appeal for quake victims

While several people were found alive in Turkiye on Wednesday, the number of rescues has dwindled significantly. Neither Turkiye nor Syria have said how many people are still missing.

On Thursday, the United Nations launched an appeal for $1 billion to help victims in Turkiye of last week’s catastrophic earthquake that killed thousands of people and left millions more in desperate need of aid.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement that the funds would provide humanitarian relief for three months to 5.2 million people.

The money would “allow aid organisations to rapidly scale up vital support,” including in the areas of food security, protection, education, water and shelter, he added.

“The needs are enormous, people are suffering and there’s no time to lose,” Guterres implored.

“I urge the international community to step up and fully fund this critical effort in response to one of the biggest natural disasters of our times.” The 7.8-magnitude tremor early on February 6 has killed more than 35,000 people in southeast Turkiye, with several thousand more losing their lives across the border in Syria.

More than 9m people in Turkiye have been directly impacted by the disaster, according to Ankara.

Turkiye’s people have experienced “unspeakable heartache,” the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said in a separate statement announcing the flash appeal.

“We must stand with them in their darkest hour and ensure they receive the support they need,” added Griffiths, who heads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

OCHA said in its statement that hundreds of thousands of people, including small children and elderly people, are without access to shelter, food, water, heaters and medical care in freezing temperatures.

It added that some 47,000 buildings have been destroyed or damaged across Turkiye, with thousands of people having sought refuge in temporary shelters.

The UN is delivering hot meals, food, tents, warm winter clothing, blankets, mattresses, kitchen sets and medical supplies to affected areas, OCHA said.

On Tuesday, the UN launched a $397m appeal to help quake victims in Syria.

The United Nations earlier provided $50m to relief efforts through its central emergency response fund.

For families still waiting to retrieve their lost relatives, there is growing anger over what they see as corrupt building practices and deeply flawed urban development that resulted in thousands of homes and businesses disintegrating.

“I have two children. No others. They are both under this rubble,” said Sevil Karaabdlolu, as excavators tore down what remained of a high-end block of flats in the southern city of Antakya, where her two daughters had lived.

Around 650 people are believed to have died when the Renaissance Residence building collapsed in the quake.

“We rented this place as an elite place, a safe place. How do I know that the contractor built it this way? … Everyone is looking to make a profit. They’re all guilty,” she said.

Some 200 kilometres away, around 100 people gathered at a small cemetery in the town of Pazarcik, to bury a family of four — Ismail and Selin Yavuzatmaca and their two young daughters — who had died in the doomed Renaissance building.

“This should have been the fate of the Renaissance constructor, not of Ismail!” his sister-in-law yelled.

Turkiye has promised to investigate anyone suspected of responsibility for the collapse of buildings and has ordered the detention of more than 100 suspects, including developers.

Across the border in Syria, the earthquake slammed a region divided and devastated by 12 years of civil war.

The Syrian government says the death toll in the territory it controls is 1,414. More than 4,000 fatalities have been reported in the rebel-held northwest, but rescuers say nobody has been found alive there since Feb. 9.

The aid effort has been hampered by the conflict and many people in the northwest feel abandoned as supplies almost invariably head to other parts of the sprawling disaster zone.

Deliveries from Turkiye were severed completely in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, when a route used by the United Nations was temporarily blocked. Earlier this week, days after the disaster, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad granted approval for two additional crossings to be opened.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2023

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