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People and rescuers search in a damaged building, in Kharamanmaras, southeastern Turkey Alamy Stock Photo
Rescue Effort

Erdogan admits earthquake rescue effort not as quick as hoped as death toll nears 24,000

Officials and medics said 20,213 people had died in Turkey and 3,553 in Syria.

LAST UPDATE | 10 Feb 2023

THE DEATH TOLL from the massive earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria has climbed to more than 23,000, as the Turkish president admitted the government’s search and rescue efforts didn’t go as quickly as hoped. 

Officials and medics said 20,213 people had died in Turkey and 3,553 in Syria. The confirmed total now stands at 23,766.

Experts fear the number will continue to rise.

The United Nations has warned that 874,000 people are now in urgent need of hot meals across Turkey and Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has admitted for the first time today that his government’s search and rescue effort from this week’s devastating earthquake did not go as quickly as hoped.

Erdogan has faced criticism from the quake’s survivors about an insufficient number of rescuers and humanitarian aid being delivered in the first days of Turkey’s biggest disaster in nearly a century.

Erdogan repeated an earlier admission that there had been “shortcomings” in his government’s response.

But he appeared to go one step further by conceding that his teams could have responded more quickly.

“So many buildings were damaged that unfortunately, we were not able to speed up our interventions as quickly as we had desired,” Erdogan said during a visit to the hard-hit southern city of Adiyaman.

He said rescuers had been slowed by a winter storm over the area that had made some roads impassable.

“Moreover, most public workers who would have conducted the first intervention and organisation were themselves under the collapsed buildings,” Erdogan said.

He added that Turkey had now gathered “perhaps the world’s largest search and rescue team” comprised of 141,000 across 10 affected provinces.

people-at-the-cemetery-as-they-bury-their-loved-ones-victims-of-monday-earthquake-in-adiyaman-turkey-friday-feb-10-2023-emergency-crews-made-a-series-of-dramatic-rescues-in-turkey-on-friday-p People at the cemetery as they bury their loved ones, victims of Monday's earthquake, in Adiyaman, Turkey Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Children found alive

As crews entered the fifth day of peeling back flattened buildings, Turkish media reported rescues of young children, long after the expiration of the 72-hour window when survivors are considered most likely to be found.

In the 105th hour, rescuers pulled 18-month-old Yusuf Huseyin from the debris in the southeastern city of Antakya. 20 minutes later, they rescued seven-year-old Muhammed Huseyin, NTV news channel reported.

Three-year-old Zeynep Ela Parlak was also rescued in Antakya today, while in Adiyaman province, rescuers saved a 60-year-old Eyup Ak and in Gaziantep, two people were pulled out alive including a child whose age was not known.

“Half an hour ago, we managed to rescue two living people out of the rubble,” the Czech fire service tweeted Friday of their teams in southeastern Turkey’s Adiyaman.

Yesterday, rescuers pulled a 10-day-old baby and his mother out alive after 90 hours trapped in hard-hit Hatay province, Turkish officials said.

The baby boy named Yagiz Ulas was swiftly wrapped in a thermal blanket.

Bodies flown home

Elsewhere, the bodies of seven Cypriot children, as well as two teachers and a parent killed by the earthquake in Adiyaman were flown home today, with Turkish media reporting that 19 children in the group died.

Two dozen children aged 11 to 14 from the island, along with 10 parents, four teachers and a volleyball coach, were in Turkey for a school tournament and had been staying in a hotel that was destroyed.

In a region home to many displaced and traumatised by Syria’s civil war, worries were growing over the many people left without shelter amid freezing temperatures.

NATO members have agreed to deploy shelters to ally Turkey to help provide accommodation for those left homeless. 

The “semi-permanent” shelters are usually used by NATO forces as headquarters for military operations and exercises.

people-with-their-belongings-arrive-at-the-tents-in-kharamanmaras-southeastern-turkey-friday-feb-10-2023-rescuers-pulled-several-people-alive-from-the-shattered-remnants-of-buildings-on-friday People with their belongings arrive at the tents, in Kharamanmaras, southeastern Turkey Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“As many as 5.3 million people in Syria may have been left homeless by the earthquake,” the Syria representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sivanka Dhanapala, told a press briefing.

He said the UN estimated that 5.37 million people affected by the quake will need shelter assistance across the country.

“That is a huge number and comes to a population already suffering mass displacement,” he said.

“For Syria, this is a crisis within a crisis. We’ve had economic shocks, Covid and are now in the depths of winter.”

Temperatures in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, located near the epicentre of the quake, plunged to -3 degrees earlier today.

Despite the cold, thousands of families have been living in cars and makeshift tents – too scared or banned from returning to their homes.

Gyms, mosques, schools and some stores have opened at night. But beds are scarce, and thousands spend the nights in cars with engines running to provide heat.

Aid reaches rebel areas

A UN aid convoy crossed into rebel-held Syria from Turkey today, the second such delivery since the quake, a border official told AFP.

The 14-truck convoy carried non-food items such as “humanitarian kits, solar lamps, blankets and other assistance”, International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Paul Dillon told reporters in Geneva.

The aid “will be sufficient for about 1,100 families in the quake-hit areas in Idlib” province, he added.

Yesterday, a first convoy entered rebel-held areas carrying basic relief items for 5,000 people, the IOM said.

The Syrian government said later today it had approved the delivery of humanitarian aid directly from government-held territory to rebel areas.

The White Helmets rescue group accused the UN of botching its response in rebel-held areas of northwestern Syria to the quake.

The group has been spearheading rescue efforts in rebel areas with virtually no outside help.

“The UN has committed a crime against the Syrian people in the northwest,” the group’s chief Raed Saleh told AFP, noting that UN agencies had not delivered any quake-specific relief to survivors since the disaster hit before dawn on Monday.

“The UN must apologise to the Syrian people.”

Saleh said the White Helmets’ top priority was “shelter for tens of thousands of families who have lost their homes”, as well as heating, personal hygiene kits and access to clean water.

people-sit-by-the-debris-of-their-collapsed-house-in-hatay-southern-turkey-thursday-feb-9-2023-emergency-crews-made-a-series-of-dramatic-rescues-in-turkey-on-friday-pulling-several-people-some People sit by the debris of their collapsed house in Hatay, southern Turkey Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Currently, just one crossing on the Syria-Turkey border is open to UN aid deliveries.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Security Council to authorise the opening of new cross-border humanitarian aid points between Turkey and Syria.

“This is the moment of unity, it’s not a moment to politicise or to divide but it is obvious that we need massive support,” Guterres said.

World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths have both announced upcoming visits.

“As this tragic event unfolds, people’s desperate plight must be addressed,” said the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, who travelled to quake-hit Aleppo in Syria.

Irish support

Irish humanitarian aid organisations are scaling up their emergency response in Turkey and Syria following Monday’s devastating earthquake. 

Dóchas, the Irish association of non-governmental development organisations, yesterday said Irish NGOs are on the ground and working through local partners to help the survivors. 

The following Irish aid organisations have launched emergency appeals to support the relief effort:

Yesterday, Irish Emergency Alliance members also launched a joint-appeal calling on the Irish public to help support people impacted by the quake. 

Irish Emergency Alliance members include Action Aid, Christian Aid, Plan International, Tearfund, Trócaire and World Vision Ireland. 

“This is a time for concerted, united action,” Irish Emergency Alliance executive director Brian Casey said. 

“The impacts of these earthquakes have been devastating. In the midst of an already harsh winter, vulnerable children, families and others have been shaken to the core by the devastating earthquakes,” Casey said. 

“People have been left without shelter in freezing winter conditions, with humanatarian needs expected to grow in the coming days,” he said. 

Casey said that access to clean water will likely be a challenge, “bringing the risk of cholera and other diseases”. 

Tánaiste Micheál Martin on Monday announced that Ireland will send €2 million in emergency assistance to Turkey and Syria.

With reporting by - © AFP 2023 

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