Hulya Bayrak is rescued from the rubble of a collapsed building 116 hours after the earthquakes, on February 10, 2023 in Hatay, Turkey.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
The death toll from the earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria topped 35,000 on Monday, with only a handful of survivors being pulled from the rubble more than a week after the disasters devastated swathes of both countries.
On Sunday, rescuers rescued 11-year-old Lena Maradini, who had been trapped for more than 160 hours near the epicenter of Hatay, a photo from the European Pressphoto Agency showed. A woman, Naide Umay, was also rescued from nearby rubble after nearly 175 hours, according to Reuters video.
But as tears of joy and applause greeted Lena and Umay emerging from the rubble alive, death overshadowed most search operations, as many rescuers and loved ones resigned themselves to finding no one alive under the rubble.
Turkey’s disaster management agency said on Monday that more than 31,500 people had been recorded killed in this country. The Syrian Health Ministry has reported nearly 1,400 deaths and the White Helmets, a voluntary relief group in rebel-held areas of the country, have reported another 2,100 deaths.
The death toll was expected to climb.
Local rescue workers in Turkey have been joined by dozens of international teams. In the southern city of Antakya, Swiss volunteer Asar Taratas, 39, told NBC News his group was struggling to cope with the large number of collapsed buildings.
“You need at least machinery to have the ability to design a plan in a place where there is a lot of space to move around,” he said, referring to the lack of heavy machinery such as bulldozers and excavators needed to move large blocks of concrete.
Those trapped could even survive for two weeks if given water and food while rescuers dig them up, he added.
Earthquakes of magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 – and numerous aftershocks – struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6. Officials said it was the worst natural disaster to hit the region in a century.
Donning a black leather jacket and warming himself by a fire, Yahya Shikani, 29, chain-smoked cigarettes next to a pile of rubble in Antakya where a Ukrainian rescue team was extricating the bodies of his sister and of his two nieces.
Shikani, whose family fled Syria to Turkey in 2015 after their home was bombed by Russian warplanes, said he had previously pleaded with rescue teams, including the police and military, for help after spotting their bodies, but only the Ukrainians responded. .
“Crazy fate, really,” he said. “I was sad they died, but I was so happy they chose them because now we can mourn them.”
Among the rescuers was Yehor Tuprunov, who arrived in Antakya from war-torn Ukraine.
“It’s like in Ukraine because you destroyed buildings, so many bodies. We feel this problem in Turkey, that’s why we came from Ukraine to this place,” he said.
As hopes for more survivors dimmed by the hour, the focus turned to helping those who survived, with tons of critical humanitarian aid and response teams arriving in Turkey.
So far, the US Air Force has delivered more than 5,700 tons of rescue and disaster relief equipment, the US Agency for International Development announced on Sunday.
Members of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army rest after an earthquake, in the rebel town of Jandaris, Syria, February 11, 2023.
Khalil Ashawi | Reuters
But in sanctions-hit Syria, the delivery of aid has been hampered by a decade-long civil war and the availability of a single border crossing for the delivery of UN aid.
“So far we have let the people of northwestern Syria down. They rightly feel abandoned,” the agency’s relief coordinator Martin Griffiths said on Sunday. Tweeter after his visit to the Turkish side of the crossing point.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Sunday urged the Security Council to approve two additional crossing points for the delivery of lifesaving aid.
“People in the affected areas are counting on us. They are calling on our common humanity to help them in times of need,” she said in a statement.
Speaking from the Syrian capital of Damascus, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The compounding crises of conflict, Covid, cholera, economic decline and now the earthquake land have wreaked unbearable havoc”.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. She is Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
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