In miracle rescues, survivors pulled from rubble a week after Turkey-Syria quake

7-year-old boy, 62-year-old woman saved from collapsed buildings, as more than 32,000 Turks, over 8,000 international workers participate in search and rescue efforts

People stand on top of rubble of collapsed buildings during rescue operations after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the border region of Turkey and Syria last week, in Hatay, Turkey, February 12, 2023. (BULENT KILIC/AFP)
People stand on top of rubble of collapsed buildings during rescue operations after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the border region of Turkey and Syria last week, in Hatay, Turkey, February 12, 2023. (BULENT KILIC/AFP)

KAHRAMANMARAS, Turkey (AFP) — Rescuers pulled more survivors from the rubble a week after an earthquake struck Turkey and Syria leaving more than 33,000 dead, as the UN warned the toll was set to rise far higher.

A young boy and a 62-year-old woman were the latest miracle rescues after nearly seven days trapped under the wreckage of collapsed buildings since last Monday’s devastating quake.

Seven-year-old Mustafa was rescued in southeast Turkey’s Hatay province while Nafize Yilmaz was pulled free in Nurdagi, also in Hatay, the Anadolu state news agency reported early Monday. Both had been trapped for 163 hours before their rescue late Sunday.

Turkey’s disaster agency said more than 32,000 people from Turkish organizations were working on search-and-rescue efforts, along with 8,294 international rescuers.

A member of a British search team posted a remarkable video on Twitter on Sunday showing a rescuer crawling down a tunnel created through the rubble to find a Turkish man who had been trapped for five days in Hatay.

Search teams are facing a race against the clock as experts caution that hopes for finding people alive in the debris dim with each passing day.

In the devastated Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, near the epicenter of the quake, excavators dug through mountains of twisted rubble as a rescue team recovered a body from the wreckage.

But in many areas, rescue teams said they lacked sensors and advanced search equipment, leaving them reduced to carefully digging through the rubble with shovels or only their hands.

“If we had this kind of equipment, we would have saved hundreds of lives, if not more,” said Alaa Moubarak, head of civil defense in Jableh, northwest Syria.

Lack of aid in northern Syria

The United Nations has decried the failure to ship desperately needed aid to war-torn regions of Syria.

A convoy with supplies for northwest Syria arrived via Turkey, but the UN’s relief chief Martin Griffiths said much more was needed for millions whose homes were destroyed.

“We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria. They rightly feel abandoned. Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived,” Griffiths said on Twitter.

Rescuers search destroyed buildings for survivors and victims of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the border region of Turkey and Syria last week, Nurdagi, in Turkey’s Gaziantep region, February 12, 2023. (Zein Al RIFAI/AFP)

Assessing the damage in southern Turkey on Saturday, when the toll stood at 28,000, Griffiths said he expected the figure to “double or more” as chances of finding survivors fade with every passing day.

Supplies have been slow to arrive in Syria, where years of conflict have ravaged the healthcare system, and parts of the country remain under the control of rebels battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which is under Western sanctions.

But a 10-truck UN convoy crossed into northwest Syria via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, according to an AFP correspondent, carrying shelter kits, plastic sheeting, rope, blankets, mattresses, and carpets.

Bab al-Hawa is the only point for international aid to reach people in rebel-held areas of Syria after nearly 12 years of civil war after other crossings were closed under pressure from China and Russia.

Trucks carrying tent and shelter kits provided by the United Nations in the aftermath of a deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake enter Syria’s Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, on February 12, 2023. (OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP)

The head of the World Health Organization met Assad in Damascus on Sunday and said the Syrian leader had voiced readiness for more border crossings to help bring aid into the rebel-held northwest.

“He was open to considering additional cross-border access points for this emergency,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

Conflict, Covid, cholera, quake

“The compounding crises of conflict, Covid, cholera, economic decline and now the earthquake have taken an unbearable toll,” Tedros said a day after visiting Aleppo.

While Damascus had given the all-clear for cross-line aid convoys to go ahead from government areas, Tedros said the WHO was still waiting for a green light from rebel-held areas before going in.

Assad looked forward to further “efficient cooperation” with the UN agency to improve the shortage in supplies, equipment, and medicines, his presidency said.

He had also thanked the United Arab Emirates for providing “huge relief and humanitarian aid,” with pledges of tens of millions of dollars.

But in Turkey security concerns prompted the suspension of some rescue operations, and dozens of people have been arrested for looting or trying to defraud victims in the aftermath of the quake, according to state media.

An Israeli emergency relief organization said Sunday it had suspended its earthquake rescue operation in Turkey and returned home because of a “significant” security threat to its staff.

The United Hatzalah rescue delegation that was dispatched to Turkey after the country’s devastating earthquakes pose for a photograph on February 12, 2023. (United Hatzalah)

Anger grows

After days of grief and anguish, anger in Turkey has been growing over the poor quality of buildings as well as the government’s response to the country’s worst disaster in nearly a century.

A total of 12,141 buildings were officially either destroyed or seriously damaged in Turkey.

Three people were put behind bars by Sunday and seven more have been detained — including two developers who were trying to relocate to the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Officials and medics said 29,605 people had died in Turkey and 3,581 in Syria from last Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake, bringing the confirmed total to 33,186.

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