Difficult conditions frustrate rescue efforts in Turkey, Syria

As death toll passes 4,800, WHO warns casualties could exceed 20,000

WhatsApp Image 2023-02-07 at 12.00.45 (1)
(Photo: NYTimes)
GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Rescuers in Turkey and Syria were desperately combing the rubble in search of survivors after a series of powerful earthquakes collapsed thousands of buildings, killed more than 4,800 people, and raised the specter of a new humanitarian disaster in an area already wracked by war, a refugee crisis, deep economic troubles, and near-freezing temperatures, the New York Times reported.اضافة اعلان

The World Health Organization warned the number of casualties could exceed 20,000, according to The Guardian.

Catherine Smallwood, the WHO senior emergency officer for Europe, told the AFP the death toll could increase “eightfold” on the initial numbers, speaking when the estimated toll stood at 2,600.

“We always see the same thing with earthquakes, unfortunately, which is that the initial reports of the numbers of people who have died or who have been injured will increase quite significantly in the week that follows.”

Here are other key developments: — Almost 3,000 buildings collapsed across Turkey alone after the initial quake, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. “We do not know where the number of dead and injured can go,” he said.

— In Syria, rescue workers used headlamps and flood lights to work throughout the night. Turkey’s relief agency AFAD said there were 3,381 deaths in the country. The death toll in Syria stood at 1,444, The Guardian reported.

— Videos shared on social media from Turkey and across the border in Syria showed destroyed buildings and rescue crews searching through piles of rubble for survivors. Some people fled their homes in the rain and took shelter in cars in near-freezing temperatures.

— Governments around the world quickly responded to Turkey’s request for international assistance, deploying rescue teams and offers of aid.

— Earthquakes occur frequently in Turkey, which sits on fault lines. Recent quakes in the region have caused deadly landslides.

‘Mired in crisis’ Once again, Syrians heard the roar and thud of buildings coming down, once again saw dust rising from the mounds of gray, jagged concrete and twisted metal where houses and offices had stood. Once again, people dug in the ruins with their hands, hoping, often in vain, to save the people they loved.

Across northwestern Syria on Monday, apartment blocks, shops, even entire neighborhoods were wiped out in seconds by a powerful earthquake, in scenes that were all too familiar to a region devastated by more than a decade of civil war, the New York Times reported.

Millions of people displaced by the years of fighting have fled to the north, the only place that remains outside government control. They sheltered in tents, ancient ruins and any other place they could find after their former homes were destroyed.

The economic collapse the war brought on had made it impossible for many of them to get a decent meal. This winter’s fuel crisis had them shivering in their beds, without heat. Syria’s wrecked infrastructure had caused thousands to fall sick with cholera in recent months; the ruin of its hospitals meant many could get no health care.

Then came Monday’s earthquake.

“How can we tolerate all this?” said Ibrahim Al-Khatib, a resident of Taftanaz in northwestern Syria who was startled from his sleep early in the morning and rushed into the street along with his neighbors. “With the Russian airstrikes, and then Bashar al-Assad’s attacks, and today the earthquake?”

‘Emergency within an emergency’ in Syria At a hospital just outside Idlib, Syria, “every moment, fresh bodies were being brought in,” said Dr Osama Salloum. One boy, estimated to be about six years old, died as Salloum performed CPR on him. “I saw the life leave his face,” he said.

“We kept looking up to the sky for jets,” Salloum said. “My mind was playing tricks on me, telling me it was war again.”

Mark Kaye, spokesperson for the International Rescue Committee, echoed many UN and aid groups’ pleas for more aid to be sent to Syria in the earthquake’s aftermath. “Anywhere else in the world, this would be an emergency,” he said. “What we have in Syria is an emergency within an emergency.”

Much of Syria still bears the scars of the conflict, which has been in a fragile cease-fire since early 2020. Faced with sanctions, no reconstruction aid from international donors and its own economy in shambles, rebuilding has been piecemeal and limited.

The war’s toll — massive destruction, an acute economic crisis, a collapsing currency — will make responding to the quake even more difficult for all sides.
Although emergency crews across the stricken area responded quickly, digging in the freezing cold and the rain, the scale of the destruction was too great even for rescuers accustomed to collapsed buildings.

There was not enough rescue equipment to keep up with the large numbers of people trapped in the debris. Buildings that survived the powerful 7.8-magnitude initial earthquake collapsed from the repeated aftershocks, reflecting the fragile state of Syria’s infrastructure after years of airstrikes and artillery bombardments.

In Aleppo, Syria, residents said people too afraid to stay in buildings that might yet collapse were camping in cars in open spaces such as soccer fields.

The northwestern corner of the country, along the border with Turkey, is controlled by Turkish-based opposition groups and home to about 4.6 million people. Tens of thousands of people in that area were newly homeless, said Raed Saleh, director of the White Helmets, a civil defense and rescue group that operates in areas outside government control.

Camps for those displaced by the war were full, already housing some of the 2.7 million people who had come to the northwest from other parts of the country.

Scenes from hospitals resembled those from the height of the fighting, as wards overflowed with patients sharing beds and doctors treating victims in every corner.

Even though major hostilities have ended, the healthcare system still has not recovered. Only about 45 percent of Syria’s prewar healthcare facilities are now operating, according to the International Rescue Committee.

Until now, there has not been any large-scale effort to rebuild Syria’s ruined infrastructure, something the government blames at least partly on Western sanctions.

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