How long can survivors live trapped under earthquake rubble? – NBC Chicago

How long can trapped people survive in the rubble of an earthquake?

Up to a week or more, experts say, but it depends on their injuries, how trapped they are and weather conditions.

Search teams from around the world have joined local emergency personnel in Turkey and Syria to search for victims of this week’s devastating earthquake that killed thousands.

When do the odds of survival start to drop?

Most rescues happen within the first 24 hours after a disaster. After that, the chances of survival decrease as the days pass, experts say. Many victims are seriously injured or buried by falling rocks or other debris.

Thousands of buildings have collapsed across Turkey after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the region on Monday, killing thousands.

Access to water and air to breathe are crucial factors, as well as the weather. Winter conditions in Syria and Turkey hampered rescue efforts and temperatures dropped well below freezing.

“Generally, it is rare to find survivors after the fifth to seventh day, and most search and rescue teams will consider stopping by then,” said medical expert Dr Jarone Lee. Emergency and Disaster at Massachusetts General Hospital. “But, there are many stories of people surviving well past the seven-day mark. Unfortunately, these are usually rare and extraordinary cases.”

People with traumatic injuries, including crush injuries and limb amputations, face the most critical window of survival, said Dr. George Chiampas, an emergency medicine specialist at the Feinberg School of Medicine in Northwestern University.

“If you don’t pull them out within an hour, in that golden hour, there’s really very little chance of survival,” he said.

What other factors influence the survival rate?

Those with other illnesses, whose health depends on medication, also face grim odds, Chiampas said.

Age, physical and mental condition are all critical.

“You see a lot of different scenarios where we’ve had really miraculous shutdowns and people have survived in horrific conditions,” said Dr. Christopher Colwell, an emergency medicine specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. “They tend to be younger people and have been lucky enough to find either a pocket in the rubble or a way to access needed items like air and water.

After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a teenager and his 80-year-old grandmother were found alive after nine days trapped in their razed home. The previous year, a 16-year-old Haitian girl had been rescued from the rubble of the earthquake in Port-au-Prince after 15 days.

Mental status can also affect survival. People trapped next to the bodies, who have no contact with other survivors or rescuers, may lose hope, Chiampas noted.

“If you have someone who is alive, you lean on each other to keep fighting,” he said.

AP video reporter Angie Wang contributed to this story.

NBC Chicago

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