22.5 C
Los Angeles
Monday, September 25, 2023
Home Feeds Turkey, Syria quake deaths now surpass 25,000 as miraculous rescues continue.

Turkey, Syria quake deaths now surpass 25,000 as miraculous rescues continue.


Rescuers continued to pull earthquake survivors out of the rubble in southern Turkey on Saturday, even as rescue efforts ended in northwest Syria and relief workers across the affected regions began to turn their focus to recovering bodies and providing shelter to the displaced.

Turkish authorities launched an effort to investigate building contractors for alleged negligence, as public anger mounted over the huge number of casualties in a country prone to earthquakes.

A family of five was among those pulled from the rubble on the sixth day after the devastating quakes, defying the odds and providing hope that more people could still be found alive amid the wreckage. Rescue teams in Nurdagi, in the southern Turkish region of Gaziantep, detected a mother and daughter alive under the rubble after 129 hours, Turkish news outlet Haberturk reported. The teams extracted the pair, as well as the family’s two other children and their father.

Four-year-old Sengul Karabacak was pulled from the rubble in Gaziantep about 132 hours after the earthquake, state-run news agency Anadolu reported. Footage on Turkish TV showed her blinking into the sunlight, alert and alive, as rescuers carried her on a stretcher into a waiting ambulance.

The rescues in Turkey — numbering more than a dozen on Saturday, according to Anadolu — were a testament to the labors of emergency workers from Turkey and around the world who descended on the country’s southern provinces this week, with dogs and thermal cameras, to hunt for signs of life amid the mounds of broken concrete. They showcased, too, the remarkable resilience of the human body, even as the overall death toll from the earthquakes exceeded 25,000.

Surviving 130 hours trapped under rubble “is very remarkable but not unheard of,” Christopher Colwell, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said. “As we get past 130 hours, it becomes more and more remarkable without any access to water.”

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Saturday at least 22,327 people had been killed and more than 80,000 injured in Turkey. In northwest Syria, more than 2,100 people have died. In areas under Syrian government control, at least 1,387 people have died, though state media has not shared an updated death toll since Thursday. Photos published by state media Saturday showed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad observing rescue operations in Jableh and visiting families displaced by the quakes in Lattakia.

Separately, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, visited Aleppo. “I’m heartbroken to see the conditions survivors are facing – freezing weather and extremely limited access to shelter, food, water, heat and medical care,” he wrote on Twitter.

U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths called the disaster “the worst event in 100 years in the region,” as he visited Kahramanmaras, near the earthquake’s epicenter in Turkey. Griffiths told Sky News Saturday the death toll is likely to double. The earthquake disaster is Turkey’s most powerful since 1939, and the human toll has already surpassed that of the last massive earthquake there, in 1999.

The rescue phase was nearing its end, Griffiths told Anadolu on Saturday, and humanitarian assistance would begin to focus on rebuilding. The United Nations would direct aid “for the emergency phase” to provide temporary accommodation to displaced people, while in Turkey, the government would take the lead on reconstruction, Griffiths said.

Four days after a massive earthquake hit southern Turkey on Feb. 6, rescue efforts continued in the hard-hit city of Antakya. (Video: David Enders for The Washington Post)

Visiting the quake-damaged city of Sanliurfa on Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to rebuild more than 100,000 destroyed residences within a year. More than 1.1 million people 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.

Armenia sent aid trucks to the disaster zone in Turkey, the Armenian foreign ministry said Saturday. It was the first time since 1993 that aid trucks had crossed between the two countries, which have long been adversaries with no diplomatic ties and a closed border.

Turkish officials emphasized the importance of unity and the state’s efforts to respond to the disaster. While Erdogan has acknowledged some challenges with the earthquake response, he has sought to cast critics as social media rabble-rousers trying to sow discord. But calls for accountability — for flawed buildings, and in some areas, a delayed response to the quakes — are mounting.

Tensions appeared to boil over in Hatay early Saturday, when an Austrian rescue team briefly suspended its operations in the area after “some troubles and aggressions” among angry residents, Marcel Taschwer, a spokesman for the Austrian military, said. None of the Austrians were attacked. Residents of Hatay have accused authorities of neglecting the region in the immediate aftermath of the quakes. The Austrian team resumed operations later Saturday under the protection of Turkish soldiers.

The Union of Turkish Bar Associations called on the state this week to “fight impunity” and act swiftly to collect evidence from destroyed buildings to probe construction flaws. Thousands of lawyers were ready to assist in investigations, the association said.

Turkey’s justice ministry on Saturday announced the opening of “earthquake crimes investigation offices” across the affected provinces to probe potential negligence and wrongdoing that may have led to the collapse of buildings in the quakes.

At least 14 people were detained Saturday over alleged negligence related to some of those buildings, Turkish media reported. Among them was Mehmet Yasar Coskun, the contractor in charge of a residence destroyed in Hatay who was detained at the Istanbul airport Friday while trying to board a flight to Montenegro.

Turkish authorities also arrested at least 98 people Saturday for allegedly looting damaged buildings and defrauding an earthquake victim, Anadolu reported. Erdogan has repeatedly warned against looting.

Across the border in rebel-held northwest Syria, where little aid has arrived, the Syrian Civil Defense said its rescue efforts in more than 40 cities and villages devastated by the earthquakes had ended. Volunteers with the group, also known as the White Helmets, have shifted their focus to recovering bodies from the rubble.

The group has lambasted the international community for not sufficiently assisting rescue efforts, leaving rescue workers in some areas to dig out survivors largely with shovels and backhoes. U.N. officials said damaged roads and security considerations hindered the delivery of aid. Political constraints are also at play: During the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, Damascus has restricted access to the northwest, which is held by Turkey-backed armed groups, with aid deliveries dependent on U.N. Security Council votes and one main border crossing open via Turkey.

Griffiths said he hoped aid would go to Syrian regions in and outside of government control, though he added Saturday that the situation was “not clear yet.” The Syrian government said earlier it had approved the delivery of aid to areas outside of its control, though it was unclear whether any had arrived via that route by Saturday evening.

In earthquake-battered Syria, a desperate wait for help that never came

In Jinderis, the worst-hit city in northwestern Syria, trucks bearing humanitarian aid from Middle Eastern countries began to trickle in via Turkey on Saturday, bringing much-needed food, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Niha Masih, Sarah Dadouch, Zeynep Karatas and Kareem Fahim contributed to this report.

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.