Race to find survivors as death toll climbs – NBC Chicago

Search and emergency aid teams 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 leveled by a earthquake of magnitude 7.8. The death toll has soared above 5,000 and is expected to rise further.

But with the damage spread over a wide area, the massive relief operation often struggled to reach the devastated towns, and the voices crying out from the rubble died down.

“We could hear their voices, they were calling for help,” said Ali Silo, whose two relatives could not be saved in the Turkish town of Nurdag.

In the end, it is up to Silo, a Syrian who arrived from Hama ten years ago, and other residents to recover the bodies and those of two other victims.

Monday’s earthquake ripped through a swath of destruction that stretched for hundreds of kilometers (miles) across southeastern Turkey and neighboring Syria, toppling thousands of buildings and deepening misery in an area shaped by the 12-year-long civil war and refugee crisis in Syria.

Powerful earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria, killing thousands: photos

Aftershocks then rocked tangled piles of metal and concrete, making search efforts perilous, while freezing temperatures made them even more urgent.

The scale of the suffering – and the accompanying rescue effort – was staggering.

More than 8,000 people have been pulled from the rubble in Turkey alone, and some 380,000 have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said. They crammed into malls, stadiums, mosques and community centers, while others spent the night outside in blankets gathering around the fires.

Many have taken to social media to seek help for loved ones believed to be trapped under the rubble – and Turkey’s state-run Anadolu agency quoted Interior Ministry officials as saying all calls were ” meticulously recovered” and that the information was passed on to the search teams.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 13 million of the country’s 85 million were affected in one way or another – and declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces to manage the response.

For the entire area affected by the earthquake, the number could reach 23 million people, according to Adelheid Marschang, head of emergencies at 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 to Turkey or Syria.

As aid pledges poured in, Turkey said it would only allow vehicles carrying aid to enter the worst-hit provinces of Kahramanmaras, Adiyaman and Hatay to speed up the effort.

The UN said it was “exploring all avenues” to supply rebel-held northwest Syria, where millions of people live in extreme poverty and depend on humanitarian aid to survive.

Nurgul Atay told The Associated Press that she could hear her mother’s voice under the rubble of a collapsed building in the Turkish city of Antakya, the capital of Hatay province, but that her efforts and those of ‘other people to enter the ruins had been unsuccessful without any heavy effort. materials to help.

“If only we could lift the concrete slab, we could reach it,” she said. “My mother is 70 years old, she won’t be able to take this for long.”

In Kahramanmaras, Turkey, Mesut Hancer

Mesut Hancer holds the hand of his 15-year-old daughter, Irmak, who died in the earthquake in Kahramanmaras, near the quake’s epicenter, the day after a 7.8 magnitude quake hit southeastern country, February 7, 2023. –

But in the town of Jinderis in northwestern Syria, a young girl called Nour was pulled alive from the wreckage of a collapsed building on Monday.

A rescuer cupped her head in her hands and gently wiped away the dust around her eyes as she lay amid crushed concrete and twisted metal before being pulled out and passed to another man.

Turkey has a large number of troops in the border region with Syria and has tasked the military to help with rescue efforts, including setting up tents for the homeless and a field hospital in Hatay province. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said an Ankara-based humanitarian aid brigade and eight military search and rescue teams had also been deployed.

A navy ship docked at the provincial port of Iskenderun, where a hospital collapsed, on Tuesday to ferry survivors in need of medical attention to a nearby town. Thick black smoke billowed from another area of ​​the port, where firefighters have not yet been able to put out a fire that broke out among shipping containers toppled by the earthquake.

In northern Syria, meanwhile, Sébastien Gay, head of mission in the country for Doctors Without Borders, said health facilities were overwhelmed with medical staff working “around the clock to respond to the huge number of injured people. “.

The affected area in Syria is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition 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 teeming with some 4 million people displaced from other parts of the country by the war. Many live in buildings already damaged by military bombardment.

Erdogan said the total death toll in Turkey had exceeded 3,500, with some 22,000 injured.

The death toll in areas controlled by the Syrian government has exceeded 800, with some 1,400 injured, according to the Health Ministry. The rebel-held northwest of the country also saw at least 800 dead, according to the White Helmets, the emergency organization leading the rescue operations, with more than 2,200 injured.

The region sits atop major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 people were killed in equally powerful earthquakes that struck northwestern Turkey in 1999.

The US Geological Survey measured Monday’s quake at 7.8. At least 20 aftershocks followed, authorities said, including a 7.5 magnitude earthquake.


Alsayed reported from Azmarin, Syria, while Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writers David Rising in Bangkok, Zeynep Bilginsoy and Robert Badendieck in Istanbul, Bassem Mroue and Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, and Riazat Butt in Islamabad, contributed to this report.

NBC Chicago

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