Disasters & Accidents

Desperate search for survivors as quake toll nears 5,000 in Turkey, Syria

(Update 2: Adds details, updates figures, changes head, lede, slug, minor edits)

Ankara/Beirut, Feb 7 (EFE).- Desperate searches for survivors continued in freezing temperatures Tuesday as devastating earthquakes that shook southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria left at least 4,980 dead and at least 24,000 injured.

In Turkey, fatalities rose to 3,381 and the number of injured to 20,426, according to the country’s national emergency agency (AFAD) on Tuesday morning, while in Syria there have been at least 1,602 deaths and 3,449 people injured. Casualties are expected to rise significantly.

More than 7,800 people in Turkey have been pulled out alive from the rubble of some 5,700 buildings that collapsed in Monday’s two huge tremors, one of magnitude-7.7 and a later one of M7.6, as well as numerous aftershocks, the government said, according to state-run news agency Anadolu.

On Tuesday morning, a 30-year-old man was rescued alive from the rubble of a building, nearly 30 hours after the tremors began, while a mother and her three children were also found alive after 28 hours.

About 25,000 people, including soldiers, are taking part in the rescue efforts, said AFAD.

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

Residents of the affected areas, where 15 million people live, have been told not to enter their homes, and the government has allocated about $13 million in urgent funds for the 10 most affected provinces.

The seriously injured are being transported by plane to medical centers in Istanbul and Ankara, and boats are also evacuating victims from the port of Iskenderún, southeast of the epicenters.

Many countries have already began sending hundreds of rescuers and experts to search for survivors, however freezing temperatures and snowfall in the region, where there are also mountainous territories that are difficult to access, complicate rescue operations.

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, the administration of President Bashar al-Assad reported 812 deaths and 1,449 people injured in government-controlled areas, 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 790 people have been killed and some 2,200 injured, according to the White Helmets civilian rescue group.

“The death toll is expected to dramatically rise as hundreds remain trapped under rubble,” it tweeted.

“Time is running out (…) Every second could mean saving a life. We appeal to all humanitarian organizations and international bodies to provide material support and assistance to organizations responding to this disaster.”

Syria’s United Nations envoy Bassam Sabbagh met with UN Secretary General António Guterres Monday and appealed for international help. Asked if aid donated to Syria would reach areas not controlled by the government, he reportedly 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.”

Two planes from Iraq and one from Iran loaded with emergency supplies have now arrived in Damascus, SANA said Tuesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a total of 45 nations have offered help.

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