Disasters & Accidents

Quakes death toll tops 16,000 as Turkey president visits more disaster zones

Ankara/Beirut, Feb 9 (EFE).- The death toll in Turkey and Syria from two huge earthquakes surpassed 16,000 people on Friday, with Turkey’s president is expected to visit more disaster zones.

Turkey’s disaster agency AFAD updated the country’s death toll to 12,873 people with 62,937 people injured in Monday’s magnitude-7.7 and 7.6 earthquakes in the southeast of the country, with 1,117 aftershocks registered since the first tremor.

At dawn Friday, rescuers pulled a 16-year-old boy out of the rubble alive, however as critical hours pass, hopes of many further miracles diminish.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Gaziantep, Osmaniye and Kilis Thursday, state broadcaster TRT Haber reported.

On Wednesday, he visited Adana, Hatay and Kahramanmaras provinces amid public outcry over what many say has been a slow and inadequate response to the massive disaster, which has devastated infrastructure and disrupted access to water, fuel, electricity and communications in 11 provinces amid sub-zero temperatures, rain and snow.

Local experts estimate that tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people are still trapped under the rubble of thousands of collapsed buildings, and there is still no information on the situation in many towns in the most-affected provinces.

Ovgun Ahmet Ercan, one of Turkey’s leading geophysical engineers and earthquake scientists, told Anka news agency that he estimates the number of people still trapped under collapsed buildings to be up to 200,000.

“The world has rarely seen such a disaster,” he said.

Meanwhile, internet watchdog NetBlocks said Thursday that Twitter had been restored in Turkey after it was restricted through “filtering which has been implemented intentionally.”

The restoration comes after Turkish authorities held a meeting with Twitter, it said.

“Turkey has an extensive history of social media restrictions during national emergencies and safety incidents (…) on the basis of national security, to prevent the sharing of harmful images, or to prevent the spread of alleged disinformation. NetBlocks recommends against the use of internet filtering due to its disproportionate impact on the public’s right to freely access and impart knowledge,” it said.

Across the border in Syria, the death toll now stands at 3,162 and the number of injured at 5,235 as rescue efforts continued in the five most affected provinces of the country.

The White Helmets civil defense force, which works in opposition-controlled areas, said Thursday the death toll there has risen to more than 1,900 with over 2,950 injured.

“We are at a critical point… Time is running out, hundreds of families are still stuck under the rubble. Every second means saving a life. 75+ hours after the earthquake, our teams continue search operations amid great difficulties & need for heavy machinery to remove rubble,” the group tweeted.

Another 1,262 people lost their lives and 2,285 were injured in the areas controlled by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which has not updated its data since Wednesday.

Syrian authorities announced Wednesday that some 293,000 people had to flee their homes as a result of the earthquakes in government-held areas, where some 180 shelters have been set up to accommodate those who lost their homes or whose homes suffered substantial damage.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he met with Syria Ambassador Haydar Ali Ahmad on Wednesday “to discuss the immediate health needs of people affected by the earthquake, as well as essential care for all Syrians suffering due to the prolonged conflict.”

“I reassured him of WHO’s support for all people in Syria,” he added.

Planes full of international aid and some personnel have in the past days arrived in Damascus from foreign, mostly Arab, countries. It was unclear, however, if any of this aid would reach the badly affected opposition-held areas, despite the promises of the country’s representative to the United Nations.

Even before the earthquakes, Syria was suffering its worst humanitarian crisis since the outbreak of riots against Damascus in 2011 and the subsequent start of the civil war, with 90 percent of the population plunged into poverty, shortages of basic products and millions of displaced people. EFE

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