With little hope of finding survivors, rescue teams in Turkey and Syria spent Wednesday looking for signs of life in the rubble of thousands of buildings that were destroyed by the world’s deadliest earthquake in more than a decade. Over 11,000 people are known to have died.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went to the province of Hatay, where more than 3,300 people died and whole neighborhoods were destroyed. Residents there have criticized the government’s response, saying rescuers were slow to arrive.
Erdogan, who has a hard time getting re-elected in May, said that the response to Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake had “flaws,” but he said that the cold weather was a factor. The airport runway in Hatay was destroyed by the earthquake, which made things even worse.
Erdogan said –
“It is not possible to be prepared for such a disaster.”
“We will not leave any of our citizens uncared for.”
Tens of thousands of people from Syria and Turkey are working with search teams from more than two dozen countries.
But the damage from the earthquake and its strong aftershocks was so big and spread over such a large area, including a part of Syria that was cut off by the civil war, that many people were still waiting for help.
Explore our articles for more information about earthquakes we’ve covered in the past:
- Northern California Is Back In Response Mode After Its Second Earthquake In Two Weeks.
- Earthquake Of Magnitude 5.4 Hits Northern California Days After Deadly Quake.
Experts said the survival window for those trapped under the rubble or otherwise unable to obtain basic necessities was closing rapidly. At the same time, they said it was too early to give up hope that more people would be saved.
“The first 72 hours are considered to be critical,” said Steven Godby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University in England. “The survival ratio on average within 24 hours is 74%, after 72 hours it is 22% and by the fifth day it is 6%.”
Rescuers at times used excavators or picked gingerly through debris. With thousands of buildings destroyed, it was not clear how many people might still be trapped in the rubble.
In the Turkish city of Malatya, bodies were placed side by side on the ground, covered in blankets, while rescuers waited for vehicles to pick them up, according to former journalist Ozel Pikal, who said he saw eight bodies pulled from the ruins of a building.
Pikal, who took part in the rescue efforts, said he thinks at least some of the victims froze to death as temperatures dipped to minus 6 degrees Celsius (21 Fahrenheit) (21 Fahrenheit).
Pikal said by telephone –
“As of today, there is no hope left in Malatya.”
“No one is coming out alive from the rubble.”
He said that the damage and closed roads in the area made it hard to get to all the places that need help, and there were not enough rescue workers where he was. Also, the volunteers and others who were there had to work harder because it was cold.
Pikal said –
“Our hands cannot pick up anything because of the cold.”
“Work machines are needed.”
Turkey’s disaster management agency said that unidentified bodies would be buried five days after they were photographed, given DNA tests, and had their fingerprints taken. Islamic funeral rites prescribe quick burial.
More than a decade of civil war in Syria had already caused a lot of trouble in the area. Millions of people have been forced to leave Syria, and millions more have fled to Turkey.
Turkey’s president said that more than 9,000 people have died in the country. The Syrian Health Ministry said that more than 1,200 people have died in places where the government is in charge.
The White Helmets, a group of volunteer first responders, say that at least 1,400 people have died in the rebel-held northwest. With that, the total came to 11,600. Thousands more have been hurt.
There was still hope that some people still trapped might be found alive because of the stories of rescues. On Monday, a baby girl who was crying and still attached to her dead mother by the umbilical cord was saved in Syria. A 3-year-old boy was pulled from the rubble in Kahramanmaras, Turkey.
But David Alexander, a professor of emergency planning and management at University College London, said that data from past earthquakes showed that it was now very unlikely that people would survive, especially if they had serious injuries or lost a lot of blood.
“Statistically, today is the day when we’re going to stop finding people,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we should stop searching.”
Alexander said that because there was so much rubble, the final number of deaths might not be known for weeks.
In 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal killed 8,800 people, which was the last time an earthquake killed so many people. In Japan in 2011, an earthquake caused a tsunami that killed almost 20,000 people.
Many of the people who lived through the earthquake lost their homes and had to sleep in cars, in government shelters, or outside in some places, where it rained or snowed.
“We don’t have a tent, we don’t have a heating stove, we don’t have anything. Our children are in bad shape,” Aysan Kurt, 27, said. “We did not die from hunger or the earthquake, but we will die freezing from the cold.”
Erdogan is having a hard time right now because the economy is going down and inflation is high. If people think his government handled the crisis badly, it could hurt his reputation.
During his tour of hard-hit areas, he said that the government would give $532 to each family affected by the disaster.
The leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said that Erdogan’s two decades of rule were to blame for the damage. He said that Erdogan had not prepared the country for a disaster and had wasted money.
Aid efforts in Syria have been hampered by the ongoing war and the fact that the rebel-held area along the border is cut off from the rest of the country by government forces backed by Russia. Because of the war, the West has put Syria on the outside as a bad person.
Wednesday, the European Union said that Syria had asked for humanitarian aid to help people who had been hurt by the earthquake. A person from the EU said that the sanctions against the Syrian government didn’t change the EU’s ability to help.
Muhannad Hadi, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said on Wednesday that damaged roads still made it impossible to get to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing into rebel-held Syria. This is the only place where U.N. aid can be delivered.
Using other crossings or sending the aid across conflict lines from Damascus requires “multiple levels of coordination between different parties, security, humanitarian, and NGOs,” he said. “It’s not a straightforward operation.”
Critics have said that the Syrian government is slowing things down on purpose because it doesn’t recognize aid groups that work in rebel-held areas and has tried to cut off support for those areas since the conflict started.
The White Helmets group says that in the towns of Salqeen, Harem, and Jinderis in northwest Syria, which are held by rebels, a man, a woman, and four children were pulled from the rubble.
Turkey is right on top of major fault lines, so earthquakes happen there often. In 1999, powerful earthquakes killed about 18,000 people in the northwest of Turkey.