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Saturday 1 April 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Alamy Stock Photo A woman sits on the rubble as emergency rescue teams search for people under the remains of destroyed buildings in Nurdagi town on the outskirts of Osmaniye city southern Turkey
# Rescue Effort
Earthquake death toll passes 7,300 as countries pledge support for Turkey and Syria
Rescuers are racing frantically to find more survivors but their efforts are being impeded by low temperatures and some 200 aftershocks.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 7th 2023, 7:50 PM

THE DEATH TOLL from a massive earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria has risen above 7,300, official data shows, with rescue workers still searching for trapped survivors.

The latest toll showed 5,434 people killed in Turkey and at least 1,872 in Syria, for a combined total of 7,306 fatalities.

Turkey’s vice president Fuat Oktay earlier said more than 8,000 people have been pulled from the debris in Turkey alone, and some 380,000 have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said 13 million of the country’s 85 million were affected in some way — and declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces in order to manage the response.

For the entire quake-hit area, that number could be as high as 23 million people, according to Adelheid Marschang, a senior emergencies officer with the World Health Organisation.

Erdogan said a series of emergency measures would be taken to flood the affected areas with humanitarian relief workers and financial aid.

“We have decided to declare a state of emergency to ensure that our (rescue and recovery) work can be carried out quickly,” Erdogan said in televised remarks.

“We will quickly complete the presidential and parliamentary processes related to this decision, which will cover our 10 provinces where the earthquake has been experienced and will last for three months.”

Her has also declared seven days of national mourning.

Erdogan’s government is coming under growing pressure on social media for what his critics view as a slow response to Turkey’s biggest earthquake in nearly a century.

The earthquake struck early yesterday, bringing down thousands of buildings. Rescuers are racing frantically to find more survivors but their efforts are being impeded by temperatures below freezing and some 200 aftershocks, which made the search through unstable structures perilous.

Nurgul Atay told the Associated Press she could hear her mother’s voice beneath the rubble of a collapsed building in the city of Antakya, the capital of Hatay province, but that her and others efforts to get into the ruins had been futile without any rescue crews and heavy equipment to help.

“If only we could lift the concrete slab we’d be able to reach her,” she said. “My mother is 70 years old, she won’t be able to withstand this for long.”

Across Hatay province, just southwest of the earthquake’s epicentre, officials say as many as 1,500 buildings were destroyed and many people reported relatives being trapped under the rubble with no aid or rescue teams arriving.

Screenshot 2023-02-07 09.27.24 PA Images Rescuers are searching for people in the rubble PA Images

In areas where teams worked, occasional cheers broke out through the night as survivors were brought out of the rubble.

The quake, which was centred in Turkey’s south-eastern province of Kahramanmaras, sent residents of Damascus and Beirut rushing into the street and was felt as far away as Cairo.

The medical aid organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) confirmed today that one of its staff members was among the dead after his house in Syria’s Idlib province collapsed, and that others had lost family members.

“We are very shocked and saddened by the impact of this disaster on the thousands of people touched by it, including our colleagues and their families,” said Sebastien Gay, the group’s head of mission in Syria.

Gay said health facilities in northern Syria were overwhelmed with medical personnel working “around the clock to respond to the huge numbers of wounded”.

Impact felt in Ireland

Dr Siobhán Power of Geological Survey Ireland (GSI) said scientists here could see evidence of the earthquakes.

Scientists in Ireland have been monitoring the primary (P) and secondary (S) waves caused by the quakes since yesterday.

Speaking on Today with Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio 1, Power said: ”Even though it was 4,000 kilometres away, the waves moved through the earth. And we started to see the signals quite weak first – the first set of waves, the P waves – and then when the S wave came, the signal was quite obvious.”

Power explained that movement of 1mm on this scale “sounds tiny” and is “not something that we as humans walking around the earth could feel”, but “in scientific terms it is significant”. 

It is further proof that we live on this dynamic earth and what happens even 4,000 kilometres away affects us – or that we see the evidence of it here in Ireland.

Power explained that more aftershocks are likely in the coming days.

“It can continue for quite a while… It doesn’t follow a pattern, it’s not that each one will be decreasing in magnitude. Stress has been building up and then it failed or the earth failed, or there was movement required and it’ll take a while for the earth to stabilise again in that area.

“So there are a lot of faults, there are lots of fractures along which this stress can be released. So it will take a while, yes, for the area to settle down, there will be quite a few [aftershocks].”

earthquakes-jolt-turkiyes-provinces Evrim Aydin / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images An aerial view of collapsed buildings after 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes hit Kahramanmaras, Turkiye Evrim Aydin / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Power said, aside from building collapsing, there are several other concerns in the areas devastated by the quakes. 

“Because it’s not one event, you can’t predict what’s about to happen. But also you’ll have gas mains, electricity, water, everything will have been disrupted.

“So it’ll be dangerous for that reason, as well as the falling buildings. There’s a whole variety of, a whole collection of, disasters really that will come from the first earthquake… because the area is unstable, there’ll be a lot of buildup of problems, disasters,” she said.

Rescue efforts

In Turkey’s Hatay province, thousands of people sheltered in sports centres or fair halls, while others spent the night outside, huddled in blankets around fires.

Turkey has large numbers of troops in the border region with Syria and has tasked the military to aid in the rescue efforts, including setting up tents for the homeless and a field hospital in Hatay province.

Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said a humanitarian aid brigade based in Ankara and eight military search and rescue teams had also been deployed.

A navy ship docked today at the province’s port of Iskenderun, where a hospital collapsed, to transport survivors in need of medical care to the nearby city of Mersin.

Thick, black smoke rose from another area of the port, where firefighters have not yet been able to douse a fire that broke out among shipping containers that were toppled by the earthquake.

In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, a provincial capital about 20 miles from the epicentre, people took refuge in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centres.

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One, the Turkish Ambassador to Ireland Mehmet Hakan Olcay said that “you cannot over-exaggerate the devastation that took place”. 

“It’s an earthquake of such a magnitude that we have not had one in recorded history that I can remember,” he said. 

Olcay added there are over 16,000 search and rescue teams working currently, with 2,665 search and rescue workers from 65 other countries helping. 

“They are working around the clock but it does take time and the coordination is ongoing,” Olcay said. 

“But there’s also harsh winter conditions in the region. There’s a snowstorm in some parts and also freezing temperatures. So that’s also hampering the efforts for the search and rescue operations,” he added. 


The sole border crossing used to shuttle life-saving aid from Turkey into conflict-ravaged Syria has been hit by the deadly earthquake that struck the two countries, the United Nations said today.

“The cross-border operation has itself been impacted,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, told reporters in Geneva.

“It is a disaster zone,” he said, appealing for politics to be put aside to allow desperately-needed aid to get through.

Countries from around the world have rushed to dispatch aid, personnel and equipment to help rescue efforts in the regions.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “Our teams are on the ground assessing the needs and providing assistance. We count on the international community to help the thousands of families hit by this disaster, many of whom were already in dire need of humanitarian aid in areas where access is a challenge.”

The European Union has mobilised 27 search and rescue and medical teams from 19 countries to help Turkey, together over 1,150 rescuers and 70 rescue dogs, EU crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarcic confirmed today.

Screenshot 2023-02-07 09.27.36 AP Photo / Omar Sanadiki/PA Images Syrian civil defence workers and security forces search through the wreckage of collapsed buildings in Aleppo AP Photo / Omar Sanadiki/PA Images / Omar Sanadiki/PA Images

US President Joe Biden said that teams were “deploying quickly to begin to support Turkish search and rescue efforts”.

National security spokesman John Kirby said the United States was sending two search-and-rescue teams of 79 people each, while the Pentagon and USAID were coordinating with their Turkish counterparts.

China said the first Chinese rescue teams started work in Turkey today and that it was sending $5.9 million (about €5 million) in emergency aid to the country, including rescue and medical teams, state media reported.

Deng Boqing, vice director of the China International Development Cooperation Agency, told state broadcaster CCTV that Beijing would also coordinate “urgently needed disaster relief materials” for Syria but did not say how much would be sent.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the UK was sending a team of 76 search and rescue specialists, equipment and rescue dogs. Britain was also sending an emergency medical team to assess the situation on the ground.

Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to send teams to both countries in telephone calls with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The defence ministry said 300 military personnel deployed in Syria were helping with the clear-up effort.

Ukraine has said it will send a team of 87 rescue workers to Turkey. 

Tánaiste Micheál Martin yesterday 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.

Several NGOs are providing emergency supplies and shelter to those impacted by the earthquakes.

Fiona Gannon, regional director with Concern Worldwide, said: “The biggest priority for people affected by these earthquakes is shelter as it’s currently below freezing (minus four degrees Celsius) in the areas hit by the earthquakes.

“These have been some of the strongest earthquakes in a 100 years and aftershocks have disrupted communications and electricity supplies, many people are too afraid to go inside, choosing to sleep in their cars instead.”

Prior to the earthquakes, there were already over four million people in need of aid in northwest Syria, more than over 85% of the local population, Christian Aid said.

The area is also home to nearly three million people who have been displaced by the long conflict in Syria, including nearly two million people who are still living in camps and already struggling with a harsh winter and facing sub-zero nighttime temperatures.

Rosamond Bennett, Christian Aid Ireland’s Chief Executive, said: “The vast majority of people in northwest Syria are already in desperate need of aid after years of conflict. Again and again the public dig deep to help people in their time of need but every penny makes a huge difference to support people rebuild their lives.”

Contains reporting from © AFP 2023, Órla Ryan and Hayley Halpin

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