Turkey-Syria quake death toll tops 21,000 as rescue teams race to find survivors
US announces $85 million in aid, sanctions relief to countries devastated by Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake; 17,674 people died in Turkey, 3,377 in Syria
Rescuers were scouring debris on Friday nearly 100 hours after a massive earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, killing at least 21,000 people in one of the region’s worst disasters for a century.
The first UN aid deliveries arrived on Thursday in Syrian rebel-held zones, but chances of finding survivors have dimmed since the passing of the three-day mark that experts consider a critical period to save lives.
Bitter cold hampered search efforts in both countries, but more than 80 hours after the disaster struck, 16-year-old Melda Adtas was found alive in the southern Turkish city of Antakya.
Her overjoyed father was in tears and the grieving nation cheered an agonizingly rare piece of good news.
“My dear, my dear!” he called out as rescuers pulled the teen out of the rubble and the watching crowd broke into applause.
Israeli military search and rescue experts on Friday morning pulled a 10-year-old boy out of the rubble in Kahramanmaraş, nearly 100 hours since the earthquake, bringing to 18 the number of Turkish civilians rescued by the IDF teams, according to officials.
The 7.8-magnitude quake struck early Monday as people slept, in a region where many had already suffered loss and displacement due to Syria’s civil war.
Top aid officials were planning to visit affected areas with World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths both announcing trips.
The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, said she had arrived in Aleppo.
“Communities struggling after years of fierce fighting are now crippled by the earthquake,” Spoljaric tweeted on Wednesday.
“As this tragic event unfolds, people’s desperate plight must be addressed.”
Aid reaches rebel areas
An aid convoy crossed the Turkish border into rebel-held northwestern Syria on Thursday, the first delivery into the area since the quake, an official at the Bab al-Hawa crossing told AFP.
The crossing is the only way UN assistance can reach civilians without going through areas controlled by Syrian government forces.
A decade of civil war and Syrian-Russian aerial bombardment had already destroyed hospitals, collapsed the economy and prompted electricity, fuel and water shortages.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Security Council to authorise the opening of new cross-border humanitarian aid points between Turkey and Syria.
Four million people living in the rebel-held areas have had to rely on the Bab al-Hawa crossing as part of an aid operation authorised by the UN Security Council nearly a decade ago.
“This is the moment of unity, it’s not a moment to politicise or to divide but it is obvious that we need massive support,” Guterres said.
Temperatures in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, located near the epicentre of the quake, plunged to minus three degrees Celsius (26 degrees Fahrenheit) early on Friday.
Despite the cold, thousands of families had to spend the night in cars and makeshift tents — too scared or banned from returning to their homes.
Parents walked the streets of the city carrying their children in blankets because it was warmer than sitting in a tent.
Gyms, mosques, schools and some stores have opened at night. But beds are scarce and thousands spend the nights in cars with engines running to provide heat.
“I fear for anyone who is trapped under the rubble in this,” said Melek Halici, who wrapped her two-year-old daughter in a blanket as they watched rescuers working into the night.
‘The quiet is agonizing’
Monday’s quake was the largest Turkey has seen since 1939, when 33,000 people died in the eastern Erzincan province.
Officials and medics said 17,674 people had died in Turkey and 3,377 in Syria from Monday’s tremor, bringing the confirmed total to 21,051.
Experts fear the number will continue to rise sharply.
Anger has mounted over the government’s handling of the disaster.
“People who didn’t die from the earthquake were left to die in the cold,” Hakan Tanriverdi told AFP in Adiyaman province, one of the areas hardest hit.
On a visit to the area this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted there had been “shortcomings” in the government’s handling of the disaster.
Despite the difficulties, thousands of local and foreign searchers have not given up the hunt for more survivors.
In the devastated Turkish town of Nurdagi, close to the epicentre, emergency workers using drones and heat detecting monitors ordered silence when a potential survivor was found.
“The quiet is agonizing. We just don’t know what to expect,” Emre, a local resident, said as he waited next to one block on a main road into the town.
Dozens of nations, including Israel, China, and the United States, have pledged to help.
David Saranga, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official said Friday morning that a ” large-scale aid shipment” would be delivered to Turkey in the near future, including tens of thousands of blankets, sleeping bags, coats, and winter equipment.
“Israel will also send large water purification systems that provide drinking water to thousands of people a day,” Saranga added.
Meanwhile, 140 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians, paramedics, and logistics personnel from the Israeli military, Health Ministry, and Magen David Adom ambulance service began operating a field hospital near Kahramanmaraş, using an abandoned medical center building.
The IDF said the delegation had made the center’s ER, ICU, and operating rooms operational again, in order to treat victims of the earthquake.
The World Bank said it would give $1.78 billion in aid to Turkey to help relief and recovery efforts.
Immediate assistance of $780 million will be offered from two existing projects in Turkey, said the bank, while an added $1 billion in operations is being prepared to support affected people.
In addition to a staggering human toll, the quake’s economic cost appears likely to exceed $2 billion and could reach $4 billion or more, Fitch Ratings said.
On Thursday, the US announced an initial $85 million aid package to help Turkey and Syria recover from the devastating earthquake, while also granting a temporary relief of some Damascus-related sanctions.
The US Agency for International Development said the funding will go to partners on the ground “to deliver urgently needed aid for millions of people”, including through food, shelter and emergency health services.
The funding will also support safe drinking water and sanitation to prevent the outbreak of disease, USAID said in a statement.
The announcement comes after Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier Thursday spoke by telephone with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to discuss the NATO ally’s needs.
“We are proud to join the global efforts to help Turkey just as Turkey has so often contributed its own humanitarian rescue experts to so many other countries in the past,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters as he described the call.
The Treasury Department later announced a temporary lifting of some Syria-related sanctions, hoping to ensure that aid moves as quick as possible to those affected.
The move “authorizes for 180 days all transactions related to earthquake relief that would be otherwise prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations,” the department said in a statement.
It stated however that US sanctions programs “already contain robust exemptions for humanitarian efforts.”
The US has sent rescue teams to Turkey and has contributed concrete breakers, generators, water purification systems and helicopters, officials said Thursday.
USAID said rescue teams were focused on badly hit Adiyaman — a city in southeastern Turkey — seeking survivors with dogs, cameras and listening devices.
Following major damage to roads and bridges, the US military has sent Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters to transfer supplies, it said.
Assistance in Syria is going through local partners as the US refuses to deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad, from whom Washington demands accountability over abuses during the brutal civil war.