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Children plucked from ruins days after earthquake, but death toll tops 22,000

February 10, 2023 at 4:49 pm

A mother and 3 children are rescued 108 hours after 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes hit multiple provinces of Turkiye including Hatay, Turkiye on February 10, 2023 [Antalya Metropolitan Municipality/Anadolu Agency]

Rescue crews saved a 10-day-old baby and his mother trapped in ruins of a building in Turkiye on Friday, and dug several people from other sites as President Tayyip Erdogan said authorities should have reacted faster to this week’s huge earthquake.

The confirmed death toll from the deadliest quake in the region in two decades stood at more than 22,000 across southern Turkiye and north-west Syria four days after it hit.

Hundreds of thousands more people have been left homeless and short of food in bleak winter conditions and leaders in both countries have faced questions about their response.

Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, made his first reported trip to affected areas since the quake, visiting a hospital in Aleppo, state media reported. But the World Food Programme said it was running out of stocks in rebel-held north-west Syria as the state of war there complicated relief efforts.

Erdogan, on Friday, visited Turkiye’s Adiyaman province, where he acknowledged the government’s response was not as fast as it could have been.

“Although we have the largest search and rescue team in the world right now, it is a reality that search efforts are not as fast as we wanted them to be,” he said.

He also said looting of shops had taken place in some areas, although a state of emergency should quell this.

Erdogan is standing for re-election in a vote scheduled for 14 May, and his opponents have seized upon the issue to attack him. The election may now be postponed due to the disaster.

With anger simmering over delays in the delivery of aid and getting the rescue effort under way, the disaster is likely to play into the election, if it goes ahead.

Erdogan, for whom the vote was his toughest challenge in two decades in power, even before the earthquake, has called for solidarity and condemned what he has described as “negative campaigns for political interest”.

READ: Muslim scholars call for urgent aid for Turkiye, Syria after massive quake

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of Turkiye’s main opposition party, criticised the government response.

“The earthquake was huge, but what was much bigger than the earthquake was the lack of coordination, lack of planning and incompetence,” Kilicdaroglu said in a video statement.

Hope amid the ruins 

Rescuers, including teams from dozens of countries, toiled night and day in the ruins of thousands of wrecked buildings to find buried survivors. In freezing temperatures, they regularly called for silence as they listened for any sound of life from mangled concrete mounds.

In the Samandag district of Turkiye’s Hatay province, rescuers crouched under concrete slabs and whispering “Inshallah” (God willing), carefully reached into the rubble and picked out a 10-day-old newborn.

Baby Yagiz Ulas, his eyes wide open, was wrapped in a thermal blanket and carried to a field hospital. Emergency workers also took away his mother, dazed and pale but conscious on a stretcher, video images showed.

In Diyarbakir to the east, Sebahat Varli, 32, and her son, Serhat, were rescued and taken to hospital on Friday morning, 100 hours after the quake.

Across the border in Syria, rescuers from the White Helmets group used their hands to dig though plaster and cement until reaching the bare foot of a young girl, still wearing pink pajamas, grimy but alive and free.

But hopes were fading that many more would be found alive.

In the Syrian town of Jandaris, Naser Al-Wakaa sobbed as he sat on the pile of rubble and twisted metal that had been his family’s home, burying his face in the baby clothes that had belonged to one of his children.

“Bilal, oh Bilal,” he wailed, shouting the name of one of his dead children.

READ: Arab world prays for earthquake victims

The death toll from the magnitude 7.8 earthquake and several powerful aftershocks across both countries has surpassed the more than 17,000 killed in 1999, when a similarly powerful earthquake hit north-west Turkiye.

It now ranks as the seventh most deadly natural disaster this century, ahead of Japan’s 2011 tremor and tsunami and approaching the 31,000 killed by a quake in neighbouring Iran in 2003.

The death toll in Turkiye rose to 19,388 on Friday, Erdogan said. In Syria, more than 3,300 have been killed. Many more people remain under rubble.

Some 24.4 million people in Syria and Turkiye have been affected, according to Turkish officials and the United Nations, in an area spanning roughly 450 km (280 miles) from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east. In Syria, people were killed as far south as Hama, 250 km from the epicentre.

Many people have set up shelters in supermarket car parks, mosques, roadsides or amid the ruins. Survivors are often desperate for food, water and heat, and working toilets are sparse in hard-hit areas.

Deep concern over north-west Syria 

Relief efforts in Syria have been complicated by the 11-year-long civil war there. Syrians have voiced despair at the slow response including in areas controlled by Assad, who is shunned by the West.

On Friday, 14 trucks carrying humanitarian aid crossed into northern Syria from Turkiye, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Geneva said. They carried electric heaters, tents, blankets and other items.

But the World Food Programme (WFP) said it was running out of stocks in north-west Syria, where 90 per cent of the population depends on humanitarian assistance. It called for the opening of more border crossings from Turkiye.

The Syrian government, which is under Western sanctions, has appealed for UN aid, while saying all assistance must be done in coordination with Damascus and delivered from within Syria, not across the Turkish border.

Damascus views the delivery of aid to rebel-held areas from Turkiye as a violation of its sovereignty.

The Presidency shared images of Assad and his wife, Asma, visiting people in Aleppo who were injured in the quake.

READ: Turkiye quake and other major natural disasters this century

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