Türkiye and Syria witnessed massive destruction after a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit southern Türkiye on early hours of Monday. At least 8,000 people rescued from debris in Turkey with 380,000 taking refuge in government shelters.
AUDIO BY PIERS POTTER
Search teams and emergency aid from around the world poured into Turkey and Syria on Tuesday as rescuers working in freezing temperatures dug — sometimes with their bare hands — through the remains of buildings flattened by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. The death toll soared above 5,000 and was still expected to rise.
But with the damage spread over a wide area, the massive relief operation often struggled to reach devastated towns, and voices that had been crying out from the rubble fell silent.
Monday’s quake cut a swath of destruction that stretched hundreds of kilometres (miles) across southeastern Turkey and neighbouring Syria, toppling thousands of buildings and heaping more misery on a region shaped by Syria’s 12-year civil war and refugee crisis.
Aftershocks then rattled tangled piles of metal and concrete, making the search efforts perilous, while freezing temperatures made them ever more urgent. Flags in Türkiye have been lowered to half-staff as the country observes seven days of national mourning over the deadly earthquakes that have wreaked massive devastation and claimed thousands of lives
The scale of the suffering — and the accompanying rescue effort — were staggering.
More than 8,000 people have been pulled from the debris in Turkey alone, and some 380,000 have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels, said Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay. 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 were affected in some way — and declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces in order to manage the response.
For the entire quake-hit area, that number could be as high as 23 million people, according to Adelheid Marschang, a senior emergencies officer with the World Health Organization.
“This is a crisis on top of multiple crises in the affected region,” Marschang said in Geneva. Teams from nearly 30 countries around the world headed for Turkey or Syria.
As promises of help flooded in, Turkey said it would only allow vehicles carrying aid to enter the worst-hit provinces of Kahramanmaras, Adiyaman and Hatay in order to speed the effort.
The United Nations said it was “exploring all avenues” to get supplies to rebel-held northwestern Syria, where millions live in extreme poverty and rely on humanitarian aid to survive.
Turkey has large numbers of troops in the border region with Syria and has tasked the military to aid in the rescue efforts, including setting up tents for the homeless and a field hospital in Hatay province. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said a humanitarian aid brigade based in Ankara and eight military search and rescue teams had also been deployed.
A navy ship docked on Tuesday at the province’s port of Iskenderun, where a hospital collapsed, to transport survivors in need of medical care to a nearby city. Thick, black smoke rose from another area of the port, where firefighters have not yet been able to douse a fire that broke out among shipping containers toppled by the earthquake.
In northern Syria, meanwhile, Sebastien Gay, the head of mission in the country for Doctors Without Borders, said health facilities were overwhelmed with medical personnel working around “around the clock to respond to the huge numbers of wounded.”
The affected area in Syria is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey is home to millions of refugees from the Syrian civil war.
The rebel-held enclave is packed with some 4 million people displaced from other parts of the country by the war. Many live in buildings that were already damaged by military bombardments. Erdogan said the total number of deaths in Turkey had passed 3,500, with some 22,000 people injured.
The death toll in government-held areas of Syria climbed over 800, with some 1,400 injured, according to the Health Ministry. The country’s rebel-held northwest also saw at least 800 die, according to the White Helmets, the emergency organization leading rescue operations, with more than 2,200 injured.
The region sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 were killed in similarly powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkey in 1999.
Responding to Turkey’s Level-4 call for international aid China said it will do its best to provide assistance to Turkey and Syria. The devastating earthquake that struck the region struck the region on Monday killed more than 5,000 people and injured over 24,000. The first batch of aid to Turkey from China will be 40 million Chinese yuan ($5.9 million). Rescue and medical teams, and emergency supplies, the spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Mao Ning said on Tuesday, according to CNN.
India will send a C130 aircraft, carrying only medicines to Damascus in Syria on Tuesday afternoon. Two more C-17s are planned for Turkey in the late evening with 60 Para Field Hospital and personnel. Till now, India has sent NDRF team, rescuers, medical teams and relief material to Turkey.
The U.S. Geological Survey measured Monday’s quake at 7.8, with a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles). Hours later, another quake, likely triggered by the first, struck more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) away with 7.5 magnitude.