Rescues against the odds bring glimmer of hope as death toll tops 25,000 in Turkey, Syria
The Washington Post February 11, 2023
Some extraordinary rescue operations have succeeded against the odds in southern Turkey, even as the death toll continues to climb five days after earthquakes devastated swaths of the country and its neighbor Syria. Videos showed young children lifted from the rubble, surviving more than 100 hours under leveled buildings.
The earthquake disaster is Turkey’s most powerful since 1939 and its deadliest since 1999. The U.N. aid chief on Saturday described it as the “worst event in 100 years in this region.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to rebuild within a year while hitting back at criticisms of his government’s response.
In northwest Syria, civil defense workers said rescue efforts were ending, with slim chances for victims who remain trapped and nobody rescued alive in the last two days. They have criticized the international community for not providing enough aid or equipment to a region ravaged by war. Humanitarian assistance from Middle Eastern countries began to trickle into the devastated city of Jinderis on Saturday.
The latest on the aftermath of the earthquakes
• The death toll in Turkey and Syria has exceeded 25,000. Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said at least 22,327 people were killed and more than 80,000 injured in Turkey. In northwest Syria, 2,166 people died and 2,950 were injured, rescuers said. In government• controlled Syria, state media reported 1,387 deaths and 2,326 injured.
• Visiting the quake• damaged city of Sanliurfa, Erdogan pledged to rebuild more than 100,000 destroyed residences within a year. More than 1.1 million people displaced by the quakes in Turkey are staying in temporary accommodation centers, he said, pledging to provide rental support to affected people and to help families in devastated areas to transfer their children to schools in other cities.
• The Syrian Civil Defense group said rescue efforts had already ended in the northwest. The group known as the White Helmets has been digging with construction tools and their hands to find survivors in the rebel• held region. “We were fighting helplessness and time to reach people alive,” its head Raed al• Saleh said Friday. Volunteers will now focus on recovering bodies still under the rubble, the group said in a news release Saturday.
• U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said he hoped aid would go to Syrian regions in and outside government control, but added Saturday that the situation was “not clear yet.” The Syrian government said earlier it had approved the delivery of aid to areas outside its control. Damascus has during the war restricted access to the northwest, which is held by Turkey• backed armed groups, with aid deliveries depending on U.N. Security Council votes and one main border crossing open via Turkey.
• Armenia sent aid trucks to the disaster zone in Turkey, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Saturday. Armenia’s ambassador in the Netherlands said it was the first time since 1993 that trucks crossed the Armenian• Turkish border to deliver humanitarian aid. The two countries have long been adversaries with no diplomatic ties and a closed border.
• Turkey’s medical system is “fully functioning,” Koca said at a news conference Saturday. The number of people treated for urgent injuries is falling by the day, the health minister said in Hatay. He urged volunteers not to come to Hatay on their own because the area has enough general medicine practitioners. In Hatay, 2,749 buildings collapsed, more than 7,000 people were killed and at least 70,000 were injured, Koca said.
• Turkish authorities are working to restore gas and electricity to affected regions, Fatih Donmez, Turkey’s minister of energy and natural resources, said during a visit to Kahramanmaras province Saturday. Delays in restoring power to some areas were due to concerns about the safety of distribution lines, he said.
• Authorities have inspected just over one third of buildings in Turkey’s 10 quake• affected provinces, officials in the Environment and Urbanization Ministry said, according to Turkish news outlet HaberTurk. Official assessment of the damage is expected to be completed within four to five days.
• The U.S. military is deploying forces to help with earthquake relief in Turkey, officials said, with a Navy headquarters overseeing the mission and a Marine Corps general on the ground to assess the support needed.
• Aid from Saudi Arabia arrived by truck in Jinderis, in northwest Syria, on Saturday, local media in the rebel• held province reported. The humanitarian aid • including food and medical supplies • arrived by plane in Turkey before being driven across the border into Syria. A Qatari relief team also arrived in Jinderis on Saturday, along with several truckloads of aid, according to local media. Little support had arrived in the area until the weekend.
• Fourteen aid trucks entered northwest Syria through Turkey on Friday. U.N. officials said damage to roads had hampered cross• border operations into the region, where millions are displaced. Among the items were tents, blankets and heaters, the U.N. humanitarian affairs agency said.
• The head of the World Health Organization is visiting Syria to support health• care efforts. The WHO’s third plane carrying emergency supplies is expected to reach Syria on Sunday. In a statement, it said illnesses such as pneumonia are likely to rise in the next few days, as people remain exposed to the cold in temporary shelters.
• A family of five was pulled alive from the wreckage after 129 hours, Turkish media reported Saturday. Rescue teams pulled the Aslan family • first a mother and daughter, then a son, then another daughter, and finally the father • from the rubble in Nurdagi, Gaziantep, according to Turkish news outlet HaberTurk.
• A 4• year• old was rescued after 130 hours in Gaziantep on Saturday, near the epicenter in southern Turkey, according to Turkish TV. And a baby thought to be about two months old was pulled from the rubble alive after more than 128 hours in Hatay in southern Turkey, the Anadolu news agency said Saturday.
• A 55• year• old woman was rescued after she was trapped nearly 122 hours under a collapsed building in the Turkish region of Diyarbakir, the agency also said Saturday.
• A video showed crowds cheering as rescuers lifted 17• year• old Adnan from wreckage in a 94• hour rescue effort in Gaziantep. Rescue workers said they would look for his dog, Turkish media reported.
• A misfired text message may have saved a Turkish man’s life, after he was stuck under a collapsed building in Kahramanmaras, according to Turkish reports. Mustafa Sahin said he had sent a message with the number 8 to a cousin by mistake, which helped rescue teams locate him.
• An Austrian rescue team briefly suspended operations in southern Turkey early Saturday “due to the security situation,” the Austrian military said in a statement. Marcel Taschwer, a spokesman for the armed forces, said the 82• person team had paused its efforts and, along with several international organizations in the area, returned to base camp outside of Antakya after “some troubles and aggressions” among members of the population in Hatay. None of the Austrians had been attacked, he said. Residents of Hatay accused authorities of neglecting the region earlier this week. The Austrian team resumed operations later Saturday, with its dog handlers under the protection of the Turkish army, Taschwer said in an interview.
The Washington Post’s Sarah Dadouch contributed to this report.