Turkey-Syria quake toll tops 6,200 as rescuers battle cold
Moon Desk: Rescuers in Turkey and Syria battled frigid cold Tuesday in a race against time to find survivors under
buildings flattened by a earthquake that killed more than 6,200 people.
Tremors that inflicted more suffering on a border area, already plagued by
conflict, left people on the streets burning debris to try to stay warm as
international aid began to arrive.
But some extraordinary survival tales have emerged, including a newborn
baby pulled alive from rubble in Syria, still tied by her umbilical cord to her
mother who died in Monday’s quake.
“We heard a voice while we were digging,” Khalil al-Suwadi, a relative,
told AFP. “We cleared the dust and found the baby with the umbilical cord
(intact) so we cut it and my cousin took her to hospital.”
The infant is the sole survivor of her immediate family, the rest of whom
were killed in the rebel-held town of Jindayris.
The 7.8-magnitude quake struck Monday as people slept, flattening thousands
of structures, trapping an unknown number of people and potentially impacting
Whole rows of buildings collapsed, leaving some of the heaviest devastation
near the quake’s epicentre between the Turkish cities of Gaziantep and
The destruction led to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declaring
Tuesday a three-month state of emergency in 10 southeastern provinces.
– ‘Children are freezing’ –
Dozens of nations like the United States, China and the Gulf States have
pledged to help, and search teams as well as relief supplies have begun to
arrive by airplane.
Yet people in some of the hardest-hit areas said they felt like they had
been left to fend for themselves.
“I can’t get my brother back from the ruins. I can’t get my nephew back.
Look around here. There is no state official here, for God’s sake,” said Ali
Sagiroglu in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras.
“For two days we haven’t seen the state around here… Children are
freezing from the cold,” he added.
A winter storm has compounded the misery by rendering many roads — some of
them damaged by the quake — almost impassable, resulting in traffic jams that
stretch for kilometres in some regions.
The cold rain and snow are a risk both for people forced from their homes
— who took refuge in mosques, schools or even bus shelters — and survivors
buried under debris.
“It is now a race against time,” said World Health Organization chief
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“We have activated the WHO network of emergency medical teams to provide
essential health care for the injured and most vulnerable,” he added.
– 23 million could be affected –
The latest toll showed 4,544 people killed in Turkey and 1,712 in Syria,
for a combined total of 6,256 fatalities.
There are fears that the toll will rise inexorably, with WHO officials
estimating up to 20,000 may have died.
WHO warned that up to 23 million people could be affected by the massive
earthquake and urged nations to rush help to the disaster zone.
The Syrian Red Crescent appealed to Western countries to lift sanctions and
provide aid as President Bashar al-Assad’s government remains a pariah in the
West, complicating international relief efforts.
Washington and the European Commission said on Monday that humanitarian
programmes supported by them were responding to the destruction in Syria.
The UN’s cultural agency UNESCO also said it was ready to provide
assistance after two sites listed on its World Heritage list in Syria and
Turkey sustained damage.
In addition to the damage to Aleppo’s old city and the fortress in the
southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, UNESCO said at least three other World
Heritage sites could be affected.
Much of the quake-hit area of northern Syria has already been decimated by
years of war and aerial bombardment by Syrian and Russia forces that destroyed
homes, hospitals and clinics.
Residents in the quake-devastated town of Jandairis in northern Syria used
their bare hands and pickaxes to for survivors, as that was all they had to get
the job done.
“My whole family is under there — my sons, my daughter, my son-in-law…
There’s no one else to get them out,” said Ali Battal, his face streaked with
blood and head swathed in a wool shawl against the bitter cold.
“I hear their voices. I know they’re alive but there’s no one to rescue
them,” adds the man in his 60s.
The Syrian health ministry reported damage across the provinces of Aleppo,
Latakia, Hama and Tartus, where Russia is leasing a naval facility.
Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo — Syria’s pre-war commercial
hub — often collapsed due to the dilapidated infrastructure.
Following the earthquake, prisoners mutinied at a jail holding mostly
Islamic State group members in northwestern Syria, with at least 20 escaping, a
source at the facility told AFP.
Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
The country’s last 7.8-magnitude tremor was in 1939, when 33,000 died in
the eastern Erzincan province.
The Turkish region of Duzce suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999,
when more than 17,000 people died.
Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a
megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.