The death toll from a massive earthquake that struck Turkiye and Syria rose above 11,200 on Wednesday as rescuers raced to save survivors trapped under debris in the winter cold.
Officials and medics said 8,574 people had died in Turkiye and 2,662 in Syria from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the total to 11,236.
Nearly 50,000 people were also injured in Turkiye and another 5,000 in Syria, officials and rescuers on both sides said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave an update on the casualty figures during a visit to Kahramanmaras, a southern Turkish city at the epicentre of the initial quake.
Television images showed him hugging a weeping, elderly woman and walking through a large crowd towards a Red Crescent humanitarian relief tent.
Facing a tough May 14 re-election, Erdogan pledged to rebuild the damaged regions within a year.
He also appeared to push back against criticism that the government’s response to Turkey’s worst disaster in decades has been slow.
“Initially there were issues at airports and on the roads, but today things are getting easier and tomorrow it will be easier still,” he said in televised remarks.
“We have mobilised all our resources,” he added. “The state is doing its job. “
Rescuers work in freezing temperatures
Heartrending scenes of a newborn plucked alive from the rubble and a broken father clutching his dead daughter’s hand have laid bare the human cost of the earthquake.
For two days and nights since the 7.8 magnitude quake an impromptu army of rescuers have worked in freezing temperatures to find those still entombed among ruins that pockmark several cities either side of the border.
The World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that time is running out for the thousands injured and those still feared trapped.
For Mesut Hancer — a resident of Turkish city Kahramanmaras, near the epicentre — it is already too late.
He sat on the freezing rubble, too grief-stricken to speak, refusing to let go of his 15-year-old daughter Irmak’s hand as her body lay lifeless among the slabs of concrete and strands of twisted rebar.
‘Children are freezing’
Even for survivors, the future seems bleak.
Many have taken refuge from relentless aftershocks, cold rain and snow in mosques, schools and even bus shelters — burning debris to stay alive. Frustration is growing that help has been slow to arrive.
“I can’t get my brother back from the ruins. I can’t get my nephew back. Look around here. There is no state official here, for God’s sake,” said Ali Sagiroglu in Kahramanmaras.
“For two days we haven’t seen the state around here… Children are freezing from the cold,” he said.
In nearby Gaziantep, shops are closed, there is no heat because gas lines have been cut to avoid explosions, and finding petrol is tough.
Sixty-one-year-old resident Celal Deniz said the police had to intervene when impatient crowds waiting for rescue teams “revolted”.
About 100 others wrapped in blankets slept in the lounge of an airport terminal normally used to welcome Turkish politicians and celebrities.
“We saw the buildings collapse so we know we are lucky to be alive,” said Zahide Sutcu, who went to the airport with her two small children.
“But now our lives have so much uncertainty. How will I look after these children?”
Across the border in northern Syria, a decade of civil war and Syrian-Russian aerial bombardment had already destroyed hospitals, collapsed the economy and prompted electricity, fuel and water shortages.
A man who evacuated his home warms up next to a fire on a street, in the aftermath of the earthquake, in Aleppo, Syria February 8, 2023. — Reuters
In the rebel-controlled town of Jindayris, even the joy of rescuing a newborn baby was tainted with sadness.
She was still tethered to her mother who was killed in the disaster.
“We heard a voice while we were digging,” Khalil al-Suwadi, a relative, told AFP.
“We cleared the dust and found the baby with the umbilical cord (intact) so we cut it and my cousin took her to hospital.”
The infant faces a difficult future as the sole survivor among her immediate family. The rest were buried together in a mass grave on Tuesday.
Dozens of nations including the United States, China and the Gulf States have pledged to help, and search teams as well as relief supplies have begun to arrive by air.
A winter storm has compounded the misery by rendering many roads — some of them damaged by the quake — almost impassable, resulting in traffic jams that stretch for kilometres in some regions.
People who evacuated their homes warm up around a fire on a street, in the aftermath of the earthquake, in Aleppo, Syria. — Reuters
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 southeastern provinces.
The World Health Organization has warned that up to 23 million people could be affected by the massive earthquake and urged nations to rush help to the disaster zone.
The Syrian Red Crescent appealed to Western countries to lift sanctions and provide aid as President Bashar al-Assad’s government remains a pariah in the West, complicating international relief efforts.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would not work with the Damascus government.
“These funds, of course, go to the Syrian people — not to the regime. That won’t change,” he said.
Aid agencies have also asked the Syrian government to allow border crossings to be reopened to bring help to rebel-held areas.
The Turkiye-Syria border is one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. Monday’s earthquake was the largest Turkiye has seen since 1939, when 33,000 people died in the eastern Erzincan province.
In 1999, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake killed more than 17,000.
Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.
Pakistan dispatches first batch of relief items to Syria
On Wednesday morning, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) dispatched the first batch of relief items to Syrian capital Damascus via a Pakistan International Airline (PIA) flight.
The relief supplies include 260 tents and 2600 blankets. It stated that a medical team will also leave for the quake-hit country tomorrow (Thursday).
Another convoy of NDMA relief trucks will also leave for Damascus on Feb 10 and is expected to reach the city by Feb 16. The disaster management authority is also making arrangements to send an additional search and rescue team to Syria.
Dar calls on business community to donate to Turkiye relief fund
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, meanwhile, called on the business community to donate to the Turkiye relief fund established by the prime minister.
Addressing the business community, the minister expressed deep grief and sorrow over the loss of precious lives and prayed for the dead and the injured.
Dar said that under the directives of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, a special relief fund had been opened and the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) had issued a circular to all commercial banks regarding issuance of IBAN numbers for collecting donations.
The minister highlighted that the members of the federal cabinet had announced they would be donating one month’s salary to the fund, adding that parliamentarians were also expected to contribute.
He urged all chambers of commerce to mobilise their resources and contribute generously to the fund.
Additional input from APP