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Rescuers are racing to save survivors trapped under debris ABACA/PA Images
Rescue Effort

Erdogan admits 'shortcomings' as Turkey-Syria earthquake death toll tops 12,000

The World Health Organization has warned that up to 23 million people could be affected by the earthquake.

LAST UPDATE | 8 Feb 2023

THE DEATH TOLL from a massive earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria has risen above 12,000 as rescuers raced to save survivors trapped under debris in the winter cold.

Officials and medics said 9,057 people had died in Turkey and 2,992 in Syria from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the total to 12,049.

The death toll is expected to continue to rise.

Since the 7.8 magnitude quake struck, thousands of searchers have worked in freezing temperatures to find those still alive under flattened buildings on either side of the border.

middle-east-earthquake Press Association Images Press Association Images

Turkish Red Crescent chief Kerem Kinik had warned that the first 72 hours were critical in search and rescue efforts but pointed to complications of “severe weather conditions”.

earthquake-disaster-in-turkey A collapsed building in Turkey DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Emergency workers today saved some children found under a collapsed building in the hard-hit Turkish province of Hatay, where whole stretches of towns have been levelled.

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.

The infant faces a difficult future as the sole survivor among her immediate family. The rest were buried together in a mass grave yesterday.

The World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that time is running out for the thousands injured and those still feared trapped.

EU donor conference

The EU plans to host a donors conference in March to mobilise international aid for Syria and Turkey following this week’s devastating earthquake, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen has said.

The EU said the conference would be held early next month in Brussels in coordination with Turkish authorities “to mobilise funds from the international community in support for the people” of both countries.

“No one should be left alone when a tragedy like this hits a people,” von der Leyen said in a statement.

The event is aimed at coordinating the international response to the disaster and “will be open to EU Member States, neighbouring countries, UN members” and international lenders, the bloc said.

Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, will co-chair the conference, at a moment when it is facing a block from Turkey on its push to join NATO.

“Sweden wants to ensure that the EU’s assistance is adequate to meet the need of the Turkish and Syrian people in this terrible time,” Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson said.

The EU was swift to dispatch rescue teams to Turkey after the massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country on Monday, close to the border with Syria.

turkey-syria-earthquake-death-toll-rises-to-more-than-11000 Search-and-rescue efforts in Turkey (Hakan Akgun / Demiroren Visual Media) (Hakan Akgun / Demiroren Visual Media) / Demiroren Visual Media)

But it initially offered only minimal assistance to Syria through existing humanitarian programmes because of EU sanctions imposed since 2011 on the government of President Bashar al-Assad in response to his brutal crackdown on protesters, which spiralled into a civil war.

Today, Damascus made an official plea to the EU for help, the bloc’s commissioner for crisis management said.

Now that Damascus has made the move, through the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism that coordinates aid, Janez Lenarcic said the commission was asking European countries “to respond favourably to this request”.

The participants in the EU mechanism comprise the 27 EU countries plus eight neighbouring non-EU nations that include Norway and Turkey.

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

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the €2 million allocation is in direct response to the emergency appeal for funding from the Government of Turkey and aid agencies working in Turkey and northwest Syria.

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the Government would match any donations made by the public to a joint appeal by 14 humanitarian charities.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has acknowledged “shortcomings” in his government’s response to the earthquake.

Enraged residents have told said that state agencies have failed to arrive in time with food, tents or equipment to search for trapped survivors.

“Of course, there are shortcomings. The conditions are clear to see. It’s not possible to be ready for a disaster like this,” Erdogan said in his most direct response yet to accusations that his government failed to supply a sufficient number of rescuers and aid.

Pushing back against criticism, Erodgan added that more than 21,000 personnel, including soldiers and police, were at work in the province, vowing that “no one will be left unprotected”.

“By taking every necessary step, we will carry out a disaster response that won’t leave anyone under the rubble and will not leave anyone to suffer,” he said.

earthquake-7-8-hits-turkey-and-syria-hard-thousands-dead Citizens and earthquake victim rescue efforts after the earthquake in Hatay Antakya, Turkey. Tolga Ildun Tolga Ildun

Online criticism of the government’s response also increased after Twitter became inaccessible on major Turkish mobile providers today.

The social media monitor showed Twitter becoming throttled and then completely blocked across all major cell phone providers.

“The filtering measure is likely to impact community rescue efforts underway after the series of deadly earthquakes on Monday,” warned.

“Turkey has an extensive history of social media restrictions during national emergencies and safety incidents,” the monitor added.

Turkish police have detained 18 people since Monday’s earthquake over “provocative” social media posts that criticised how President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has been dealing with the disaster.

earthquake-aftermath-in-syria A member of the White Helmets works to rescue a trapped boy under a destroyed building in the city of Jandairis, Syria DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Turkish social media have been filled with posts by people complaining about a lack of search and rescue efforts in their provinces.

Officials released no immediate statements about the Twitter outage.

But they had issued repeated warnings about spreading misinformation in advance of a crucial May 14 election in which Erdogan will try to extend his two-decade rule.

Turkey’s opposition leaders and celebrities warned that Twitter’s absence threatened to disrupt rescue efforts and humanitarian relief work.

“Let’s stop this disgrace immediately,” the secular main opposition CHP party’s leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu declared. “We know everything they are trying to hide.”

Nationalist opposition Iyi Party chief Meral Aksener said Twitter was needed “to relay the needs of earthquake victims.”

Upcoming election

The two leaders head a six-party alliance that is trying to agree on a single presidential candidate to run against Erdogan.

But the government’s apparent decision to block Twitter in the middle of a profound national crisis reverberated far beyond the Turkish political sphere.

Turkish rock star Haluk Levent – a crooner with 7.2 million Twitter followers and his non-profit group involved in helping people in need – tweeted: “Err, what are we going to do now?”

Up to 23 million affected

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.

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 Turkey-Syria border is one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

Monday’s earthquake was the largest Turkey 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 that a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.

© AFP 2023 with reporting by Hayley Halpin and Emer Moreau

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