Ridvan Cakiroglu, 8, rescued by an Israeli search and rescue team from the rubble of a collapsed building 116 hours after the earthquakes, on February 10, 2023 in Kahramanmaras, Turkey.
Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
As the human death toll passed 28,000, desperation grew with every passing hour for those hoping to find loved ones alive in the rubble days after two earthquakes devastated Turkey and Syria.
But as rescuers continued their round-the-clock search in freezing temperatures on Saturday, the chances of finding survivors among those trapped in concrete mounds of fallen homes and buildings narrowed, and the rescue co-ordinator of United Nations emergency has warned that the death toll could double.
In Turkey, 67 people had been pulled from the rubble in the past 24 hours, Vice President Fuat Oktay told reporters Friday night, as reported by The Associated Press. He added that around 80,000 people were being treated in hospital and more than a million had been left homeless and were in temporary shelters.
His comments came after NBC News saw Ozlem Yilmaz, 33, and his 6-year-old daughter Zeliha being pulled from the rubble of a building in the southeastern city of Adiyaman by Turkish miners with the help of an American rescue team.
“It’s a miracle,” their relative Ilkay Yavuz said after speaking to them in an ambulance. “How can a person live in rubble for five days?
Yavuz’s joy, however, was soon tempered by the fact that Ozlem’s 11-year-old daughter, Zeynep, had died. Her husband, cousin, Oguzhan Yilmaz, 43, was confirmed dead on Saturday.
As local media reported that more people had been pulled from the rubble on Saturday, Martin Griffiths, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, warned that the death toll was likely to rise.
“I think it’s hard to estimate precisely because we have to go under the rubble, but I’m sure it will double or more,” he told Britain’s Sky News on Saturday. “It’s terrifying. It’s nature fighting back in a very harsh way.” (Sky News is owned by Comcast, the parent company of NBC News.)
The first of Monday’s devastating earthquakes hit Turkey and neighboring Syria in the early morning and recorded a magnitude of 7.8. It rated itself “major” on the official magnitude scale. A few hours later, a second earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.6, struck nearby.
Faced with questions about earthquake planning and response times, Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan this week promised to start working on rebuilding cities “within weeks”, saying hundreds of thousands of buildings were now uninhabitable, while issuing stern warnings against anyone involved in looting in the quake area.
Disaster has struck as the president prepares for national elections due to be held by June. Even before the earthquake, Erdogan’s popularity was already eroding amid the soaring cost of living and falling Turkish currency. Some analysts suggested the vote would be the toughest challenge of his two decades in office.
“There’s clearly a lot of anger about the immediate response,” said Howard Eissenstat, a nonresident fellow at the Middle East Institute, a Washington DC think tank. He added that Erdogan’s government should work hard ahead of the elections to have a chance of winning.
“In Turkey, they actually have quite strict building regulations, and what is clear is that if they had been followed from afar, few people would have died,” he said. But “everyone in Turkey knows – and I’m really talking about everyone – that earthquake protection is a joke, that it hasn’t been done.”
As a result, he said, “the government will certainly take a lot of lawsuits in the wake, so it will do its best to demonstrate that it takes the issue seriously, after the fact.”
In neighboring Syria, the UN refugee agency has estimated that as many as 5.3 million people have been left homeless. More than 3,500 people have died in Syria, where the toll has not been updated since Friday.
The disaster has deepened suffering in a region plagued by Syria’s 12-year civil war, which has isolated many parts of the country and complicated efforts to deliver aid.
The UN said the first quake-related aid convoy passed from Turkey to northwestern Syria on Friday, the day after a planned aid shipment before the disaster arrived.
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