death toll in Turkey-Syria earthquake, India sends aid, rescue operations underway in Turkey, Syria
Several high-rise buildings have been reduced to a pile of rubble. Photo: Twitter

Turkey-Syria quake toll rises to 8,300; India's aid reaches quake-hit zones

Search teams and aid poured into Turkey and Syria on Tuesday (February 7) as rescuers sifted and hammered through the rubble to find survivors under buildings flattened by an earthquake that killed more than 8,300 people. They worked in freezing temperatures and sometimes used their bare hands dug through the remains of buildings flattened by a series of powerful earthquakes.

Officials and medics said 5,894 people have died in Turkey and 2,470 in Syria, bringing the total to 8,364.

India on Wednesday handed over six tonnes of relief materials, including essential medicines and medical equipment, to earthquake-hit Syria. The consignments were sent on a C-130J military transport aircraft on Tuesday night and were handed over to the Syrian authorities by India’s Charged Affaires S K Yadav on Wednesday morning.

“Medicines, life-saving drugs and other equipment are being sent to Syria for the people affected by the devastating earthquakes. The medicines, life-saving drugs and other equipment are being sent in coordination with the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Health,” Rajesh Nayar, PSU, under the health ministry (HLL Life Care) told ANI.

India has already sent to Turkey relief materials, a mobile hospital and specialised search and rescue teams in four C-17 Globemaster military transport aircraft on Tuesday to support the country’s rescue efforts.

Also read: Buildings collapsed like pancakes in Turkiye quake; an expert explains why

India sent two teams of NDRF personnel and dog squads to help with rescue and relief operations, medical aid and relief material to Turkey aboard an IAF aircraft.

Death toll continues to rise

There are fears that the toll will rise inexorably, with WHO officials estimating up to 20,000 may have died.

WHO warned that up to 23 million people could be affected by the massive earthquake and urged nations to rush help to the disaster zone.

In Turkey, around 5,775 buildings have been reduced to rubble by the earthquakes, according to the country’s Disaster and Emergency Management Agency’s general director.

While 7,500 Turkish soldiers are working in rescue operations in affected areas, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said 1,500 more will be roped in on Wednesday.

A three-month state emergency has also been declared in 10 southern provinces by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

‘Voices have fallen silent’

Even though rescue workers are toiling hard to find traces of life, reports said the damage has spread over a wide area, and the massive relief operation has struggled to reach devastated towns, and voices that had been crying out from the rubble fell silent.

“We could hear their voices, they were calling for help,” said Ali Silo, whose two relatives could not be saved in the Turkish town of Nurdagi.

In the end, it was left to Silo, a Syrian who arrived a decade ago, and other residents to recover the bodies and those of two other victims. Monday’s magnitude 7.8 quake and a cascade of strong aftershocks cut a swath of destruction that stretched hundreds of kilometers (miles) across south-eastern Turkey and neighbouring Syria. The shaking toppled thousands of buildings and heaped more misery on a region wracked by Syria’s 12-year civil war and refugee crisis.

One temblor that followed the first registered at magnitude 7.5, powerful in its own right. Unstable piles of metal and concrete made the search efforts perilous, while freezing temperatures made them ever more urgent, as worries grew about how long trapped survivors could last in the cold. Snow swirled around rescuers in Turkey’s Malatya province, according to footage circulated by the state-run Anadolu news agency.

13 million of Turkey’s 85 million affected

In Turkey, around 380,000 have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels, said Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay. They huddled in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centers, while others spent the night outside in blankets gathering around fires. Many took to social media to plead for assistance for loved ones believed to be trapped under the rubble. Anadolu quoted Interior Ministry officials as saying all calls were being collected meticulously and the information relayed to search teams.

Turkish President Erdogan said 13 million of the country’s 85 million people were affected. Turkey was already grappling with an economic downturn ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in May. Adelheid Marschang, a senior emergencies officer with the World Health Organization, said up to 23 million people could be affected in the entire quake-hit area, calling it a crisis on top of multiple crises.

Also read: Why is Turkiye prone to earthquakes? Last year saw 20,277 quakes

Crisis at rebel-held north-western Syria

Turkey is home to millions of refugees from the Syrian civil war. The affected area in Syria is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, where millions live in extreme poverty and rely on humanitarian aid to survive. Teams from nearly 30 countries around the world headed for Turkey or Syria. As promises of help flooded in, including a pledge of USD 100 million from the United Arab Emirates, Turkey sought to accelerate the effort by allowing only vehicles carrying aid to enter the worst-hit provinces of Kahramanmaras, Adiyaman and Hatay.

The United Nations said it was exploring all avenues to get supplies to rebel-held north-western Syria, and it released USD 25 million from its emergency fund to help kick-start the humanitarian response in Turkey and Syria. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the road leading to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing from Turkey to northern Syria was damaged, temporarily disrupting aid delivery to the rebel-held northwest. Bab al-Hawa is the only crossing through which the UN aid is allowed into the area.

Dujarric said the UN is preparing a convoy to cross the conflict lines within Syria. But that would likely require a new agreement with President Bashar Assad’s government, which has laid siege to rebel-held areas throughout the civil war. Volunteer first responders known as the White Helmets have years of experience rescuing people from buildings destroyed by Syrian and Russian airstrikes in the rebel-held enclave, but they say the earthquake has overwhelmed their capabilities.

Mounir al-Mostafa, the deputy head of the White Helmets, said they were able to respond efficiently to up to 30 locations at a time, but now face calls for help from more than 700. Teams are present in those locations, but the available machinery and equipment are not enough, he said, adding that the first 72 hours after the earthquake were crucial for any rescue effort.

Dramatic rescues

Nurgul Atay told The Associated Press she could hear her mother’s voice beneath the rubble of a collapsed building in the Turkish city of Antakya, the capital of Hatay province. But efforts to get into the ruins had been futile without any heavy equipment to help. “If only we could lift the concrete slab, wed be able to reach her,” she said. “My mother is 70 years old, she won’t be able to withstand this for long. But help did reach some.”

Several dramatic rescues were reported across the region as survivors, including small children, were pulled from the rubble more than 30 hours after the earthquake. Residents in a Syrian town discovered a crying infant whose mother apparently gave birth to her while buried in the rubble of a five-story apartment building, relatives and a doctor said. The newborn was found buried under the debris with her umbilical cord still connected to her mother, Afraa Abu Hadiya, who was found dead, they said. The baby was the only member of her family to survive from the building collapse in the small town of Jinderis, next to the Turkish border, Ramadan Sleiman, a relative, told AP.

Turkey has large numbers of troops in the border region and has tasked the military with aiding in the rescue efforts, including setting up tents for the homeless and a field hospital in Hatay province. A navy ship docked on Tuesday at the provinces port of Iskenderun, where a hospital collapsed, to transport survivors in need of medical care to a nearby city. A large fire at the port, caused by containers that toppled over during the earthquake, sent thick plumes of black smoke into the sky.

The Defense Ministry said the blaze was extinguished with the help of military aircraft, but live footage broadcast by CNN Turk showed it was still burning.

(With inputs from agencies)

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