Turkey, Syria quake toll goes over 5,400
Sanliurfa, Turkey – A massive rescue effort in Turkey and Syria battled frigid weather in a race against time on Tuesday to find survivors under buildings flattened by an earthquake that killed more than 5,400 people.
Tremors that inflicted more suffering on a border area already plagued by conflict left people on the streets burning debris to try to stay warm.
Rescuers were working on collapsed apartments with heavy equipment as a worldwide relief effort promised food, search teams and equipment for the disaster zone.
“We live on the first floor out of three; we’re too scared to return,” said Imam Caglar, 42, in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa. “Our building is not safe at all.”
“My mother-in-law, my father-in-law, and two of my father-in-law’s sons are trapped,” said Mahmud al Ali in the Syrian city of Aleppo. “We are sitting here in the cold and rain and waiting for rescuers to start digging.”
The 7.8-magnitude quake struck on Monday as people slept, flattening thousands of structures, trapping an unknown number of people and potentially impacting millions. Whole rows of buildings collapsed, leaving some of the heaviest devastation near the quake’s epicentre between the Turkish cities of Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras.
The destruction led to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declaring a three-month state of emergency in ten southeastern provinces on Tuesday.
Fears toll will rise
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 cold rain and snow are a risk both for people forced from their homes – who took refuge in mosques, schools or even bus shelters – and the survivors buried under debris.
“It is now a race against time,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We have activated the WHO network of emergency medical teams to provide essential health care for the injured and most vulnerable.”
Turkey put the latest death toll at 3,703 in that country alone – bringing the confirmed tally in both Turkey and Syria to 5,415.
There are fears that the toll will rise inexorably, with WHO officials estimating up to 20,000 may have died. It warned that up to 23mn people could be affected by the earthquake and urged nations to rush help to the disaster zone.