Disasters & Accidents

Desperate search for survivors after quakes kill 4,300 in Turkey, Syria

(Update 1: Adds details, updates figures, changes head, lede, minor edits)

Ankara/Beirut, Feb 7 (EFE).- Desperate searches for survivors continued in freezing temperatures Tuesday as more than 4,300 people were confirmed dead and at least 19,000 were injured in huge, devastating earthquakes that shook southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria.

In Turkey, the death toll rose to 2,921 and the number of injured to 15,834, according to the country’s national emergency agency (AFAD), while in Syria there have been at least 1,460 deaths and 3,400 people injured.

More than 7,800 people have been pulled out alive in Turkey from the rubble of the thousands of buildings that collapsed two huge tremors, one of magnitude 7.7 and the other later of M7.6, as well as numerous aftershocks, the government said, according to state-run news agency Anadolu.

About 25,000 people, including soldiers, are taking part in the rescue efforts, according to Orhan Tatar, a senior official at AFAD.

In Malatya province, a three-year-old was rescued from the rubble, and in Sanliurfa province, a woman was pulled out, both 22 hours after the quake, local news outlets reported.

The vice-presidency indicated that more than 300,000 displaced people have been housed in university centers, shelters and student residences.

Freezing temperatures and snowfall in the region, where there are also mountainous territories that are difficult to access, complicate rescue tasks.

Local authorities have reported cuts to gas and electricity supplies in some areas, and the state oil company has cut supplies to the region as a precautionary measure.

Across the border in Syria, immersed in a civil war for more than a decade, the information on victims comes, on the one hand, from the administration of President Bashar al-Assad and, on the other, from civilian rescuers in the last rebel enclave of the country, which is surrounded by government forces and borders Turkey.

In the areas controlled by the regime, the latest figures were 764 deaths and 1,448 people injured, according to state news agency SANA early Tuesday.

In the northwestern province of Idlib, the last opposition stronghold, and in other parts of neighboring Aleppo, outside the control of Damascus, at least 700 people have been killed and some 2,000 injured, according to the White Helmets civilian rescue group.

Syria’s United Nations envoy Bassam Sabbagh met with UN secretary general António Guterres and appealed for international help. Asked if aid donated to Syria would reach areas not controlled by the government, he said: “We assure the UN that we are ready to help and to coordinate to provide assistance to all Syrians in all territory of Syria.”

The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Monday that 4.1 million people live in opposition-controlled areas of Syria that were pummeled by the quakes and “who rely on humanitarian assistance, the majority, women and children.”

“UN and partners are monitoring the situation on the ground amidst information flow constraints due to chronic telecommunication disruptions and power shortages,” the OCHA added. “Infrastructural damages are difficult to assess at this time and roads have been reportedly blocked in both Turkey and northwest Syria.”

Thirteen European Union (EU) countries offered search and rescue teams on Monday, the European Commission reported, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a total of 45 nations have offered help.

In several of the 10 hardest-hit Turkish provinces, there have been gas and electricity cuts, and cracks have appeared in some reservoirs, although authorities say there is no structural damage.

At 4.17 am Monday, a first earthquake of magnitude-7.7 struck west of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, capital of the province of the same name, the AFAD said.

That was followed by a series of aftershocks and then a similarly huge temblor in the early afternoon, which struck about 80 km north of the first in Turkey’s Kahramanmaras province and measured M7.6, it added.

Subsequently, around 145 aftershocks have occurred, three larger than M6.

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