| 14 April 2024, Sunday |

Rescuers toil on in rubble of Turkey and Syria, survivors ever harder to find

Five days after the country’s most destructive earthquake since 1939, rescuers in Turkey retrieved additional people from the rubble early on Saturday. However, in both Turkey and Syria, there were dwindling expectations that many more survivors would be discovered.

In Kahramanmaras, a city in southern Turkey near to the epicenter of the earthquake, there were less apparent rescue efforts among the concrete mounds of collapsed homes and apartment buildings, but more trucks continued to rumble through the streets hauling away debris.

The death toll kept growing – exceeding 25,250 across southern Turkey and northwest Syria. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, facing questions over earthquake planning and response time, has said authorities should have reacted faster.

Erdogan promised to start work on rebuilding cities “within weeks”, saying hundreds of thousands of buildings were now uninhabitable, while issuing stern warnings against any people involved in looting in the quake zone.

In the Turkish city of Antakya, several residents and rescue workers said they had seen looting.

In the rebel enclave of northwest Syria that suffered the country’s worst damage from the earthquake but where relief efforts are complicated by the more than decade-old civil war, very little aid had entered despite a pledge from Damascus to improve access.

In Antakya, body bags lay on city streets and residents were wearing masks to try to cover the smell of death. Ordinary people had joined the rescue effort, working without official coordination, said one who declined to give his name.

“There is chaos, rubble and bodies everywhere,” he said. His group had worked overnight trying to reach a university teacher calling to them from the rubble. But by morning she had stopped responding to them, he said.

“There are still collapsed buildings untouched in the side streets,” he added.

At one building in Kahramanmaras, rescue workers burrowed between concrete slabs to reach a five year-old girl, lifting her on a stretcher, wrapped in foil, and chanting “God is great”.

They said they believed two more survivors were clinging on under the same mound of rubble.

But though several other people were reportedly saved from the rubble on Saturday including 13 year-old Arda Can Ovan, few rescue efforts now result in success. A woman who was rescued on Friday in Kirikhan in Turkey died in hospital on Saturday.

A video taken in Hatay, Turkey, which shows a partially collapsed structure suddenly sliding and burying a rescuer in an avalanche of debris before his teammates could get him out, makes clear the danger involved in such operations.

According to Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay, 80,000 people were receiving medical attention in hospitals, while the 1.05 million people who had been made homeless by the earthquakes were staying in temporary housing.

People in the devastated area awaited word of missing family members. On Saturday, Soner Zamir and Sevde Nur Zamir were camped out in front of the damaged Kahramanmaras home of his parents and grandparents.

“Yesterday, a few people came out, but now there is no hope. This building is inoperable and uninhabitable “explained Zamir.

  • Reuters