Turkey earthquake: Race against time to find survivors as death toll passes 11,000
Rescuers struggling to dig people out of the rubble of collapsed buildings are in a race against time as the death toll from earthquakes in Turkey and Syria topped 11,000 on Wednesday.
Search teams working in freezing temperatures - sometimes just using their bare hands - were continuing to dig through the remains of buildings flattened by Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake and subsequent powerful tremors.
A UN official said thousands of children may be among the dead.
As aid began to pour in from around the world, a plane carrying a team of 77 UK search and rescue specialists, equipment and four search dogs arrived in the Turkish city of Gaziantep.
The UK International Search and Rescue team is made up of firefighters and staff from 14 fire and rescue services from across the country. They will be using specialist search equipment including seismic listening devices and concrete cutting and breaking equipment.
Turkey and Syria Earthquake | February 2023
A massive relief operation was struggling to reach devastated towns as the voices of people trapped under the rubble cried out for help.
“We could hear their voices, they were calling for help,” said Ali Silo, whose two relatives could not be saved in the Turkish town of Nurdagi.
In the end, it was left to Mr Silo, a Syrian who arrived a decade ago, and other residents to recover the bodies and those of two other victims.
Nurgul Atay said she could hear her mother’s voice beneath the rubble of a collapsed building in the Turkish city of Antakya, the capital of Hatay province. But efforts to get into the ruins had been futile without any heavy equipment to help.
“If only we could lift the concrete slab, we’d be able to reach her,” she said. “My mother is 70 years old, she won’t be able to withstand this for long.”
But help did reach some. Several dramatic rescues were reported across the region as survivors, including small children, were pulled from the rubble more than 30 hours after the earthquake.
Residents in a Syrian town discovered a crying infant whose mother apparently gave birth to her while buried in the rubble of a five-story apartment building.
The newborn was found buried under the debris with her umbilical cord still connected to her mother, Afraa Abu Hadiya, who was found dead, relatives said.
Six-month-old Ayse Vera and his mother, Hülya YÄ±lmaz, 30, had been trapped for 29 hours in the rubble of a block in Hatay, the epicentre of 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday morning.
More than 8,000 people had been pulled from the debris in Turkey alone by Tuesday, with some 380,000 taken refuge in government shelters or hotels. They huddled in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centers, while others spent the night outside in blankets gathering around fires.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 13 million of the country’s 85 million people were affected, and he declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces.
The United Nations said it was “exploring all avenues” to get supplies to rebel-held northwestern Syria. Sebastien Gay, the head of mission in the country for Doctors Without Borders, said health facilities were overwhelmed, and medical personnel were working around around the clock to help the wounded.
In the city of Aleppo, a Maronite Christian convent opened its doors to hundreds of residents who fled their shaking homes.
“Based on our principles and ideas of receiving the most needy, we wanted to make sure that everybody who was scared or lost their house or was on the streets could find shelter here,” said Brother George Sabah. “We opened every part of the convent. There isn’t a space in the convent that isn’t being used by people, including the elderly, children, men, women.”
Harsh winter weather hampered search efforts and the delivery of aid and made the plight of the homeless even more miserable. Some areas were without fuel and electricity.
Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said 5,775 buildings had been destroyed in the quake, which was followed by 285 aftershocks, and that 20,426 people had been injured.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned the toll could hit 20,000, and that 23 million people could be affected.
“It’s now a race against time,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva. “Every minute, every hour that passes, the chances of finding survivors alive diminishes.”
Three British nationals were among thousands missing following the earthquake, the UK’s Foreign Secretary said on Tuesday.
Making a statement in the Commons, James Cleverly said: “As of this morning, we know that three British nationals are missing and the Foreign Office’s Crisis Response Hub is working to support the at least 35 British nationals who have been directly affected by these earthquakes.
“We assess that the likelihood of large-scale British casualties remains low.”
The King has told Presiden Erdogan that his “thoughts and special prayers” are with all those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey.
He said: “My wife and I have been most shocked and profoundly saddened by the news of the devastating earthquakes in South East Turkiye (Turkey).
“I can only begin to imagine the scale of suffering and loss as a result of these dreadful tragedies and I particularly wanted to convey our deepest and most heartfelt sympathy to the families of all those who have lost their loved ones.
“Our thoughts and special prayers are with everyone who has been affected by this appalling natural disaster, whether through injury or the destruction of their property, and also with the emergency services and those assisting in the rescue efforts.”