Turkey-Syria Earthquake Search Intensifies

February 8, 2023

ADANA, Turkey (AP) — A frantic race was underway Tuesday to find more survivors and help the injured as the death toll from the devastating earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria the previous day passed 5,000. The toll is likely to climb further as freezing weather and multiple aftershocks are hurting the rescue efforts — despite international assistance.

Here’s the latest on the aftermath of Monday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated parts of southeast Turkey and northern Syria.

Armenia’s foreign minister says his country has offered to help Syria and Turkey in their response to the deadly quake, despite difficult relations between Yerevan and Ankara.

Ararat Mirzoyan told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday that Armenia is prepared to send aid goods and rescue teams to both countries, but didn’t immediately say whether the offers had been accepted.

Mirzoyan recalled that Armenia experienced a devastating earthquake itself in 1988 and required international assistance at the time.

Greece, which also has strained ties with neighbor Turkey, sent a team of rescuers and aid equipment Monday, and promised to provide more. “I believe I speak for all my colleagues in the Greek parliament in expressing my deepest sorrow for the many victims of the very powerful earthquakes that have been hitting Turkey since yesterday morning,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Tuesday, addressing lawmakers who clapped when he announced additional assistance was being prepared.

Key Developments:
  • Rescuers worked to pull more survivors from the rubble as cold, snowy conditions shorten the time needed to save lives.
  • The earthquake wreaked new damage and suffering in Syria’s last rebel-held enclave after years of fighting and bombardment. _ Former Chelsea forward Atsu rescued after Turkey earthquake
  • Dozens of countries are sending experts and aid to help rescue efforts.
  • What to know about the science behind the powerful quake and its aftershocks.
  • A glance at some of the world’s deadliest earthquakes since 2000.
  • Find more AP coverage of the earthquake at https://apnews.com/hub/earthquakes
  • The European Union says 19 member countries have now offered support to Turkey after the activation of the bloc’s civil protection mechanism by Istanbul. The countries were listed as Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. Non-EU members Albania and Montenegro are coordinating with the EU and Turkey and have also offered rescue teams in the aftermath of the earthquake, the EU said. The European Commission said 25 search and rescue teams are being deployed “to the hardest hit areas,” 11 of them having already reached Turkey.

The United Nations’ cultural agency says it has undertaken a preliminary survey of damage to heritage sites in the earthquake-hit areas, with an aim to help rapidly secure and stabilize them. The Paris-based UNESCO is “particularly concerned about the situation in the ancient city of Aleppo” in Syria, which is on the list of endangered World Heritage.

“Significant damage has been noted in the citadel. The western tower of the old city wall has collapsed and several buildings in the souks have been weakened,” the statement said.

In Turkey, UNESCO said it was saddened by the news of the collapse of several buildings at the Diyarbakir Fortress and Hevsel Gardens, a World Heritage site which goes back to ancient Greek and Roman times.

China will provide 6 million dollars in aid to Turkey, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said, and also deploy “heavy urban rescue teams and medical teams and providing relief materials urgently needed by the Turkish side.

“We are coordinating the provision of urgently needed relief supplies to Syria and speeding up the implementation of ongoing food aid projects,” she said.

Mao told reporters on Tuesday that President Xi Jinping “sent a condolence message to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian President Bashar Assad, mourning over the victims and expressing sincere sympathy to the families of the victims and the injured.”

She did not say when the Chinese rescue teams would head for Turkey.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said the Palestinian Authority will dispatch two humanitarian missions to assist in Syria and Turkey. The aid missions will include civil defense and medical teams, government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem said.

A 55-member team is also expected in Turkey from Libya. The government of Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah in the capital of Tripoli said the team would include rescuers, medical members along with four dogs to participate in the ongoing search and rescue efforts.

And Spanish medical workers will set up a field hospital in Turkey to treat the wounded, Spain’s foreign minister, Jose Manuel Albares, said Tuesday. Spain has mobilized troops and drones from the country’s Military Emergency Unit to Malatya airport, where the Turkish authorities have installed an international aid center.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay says some 3,294 search and rescue teams from 14 countries have arrived so far to join in the efforts. The teams were being transferred to the worst-hit provinces of Hatay, Kahramanmaras and Adiyaman, he said.

He listed the countries sending teams as the Czech Republic, France, Malta, the Netherlands, India, Poland, Algeria, Italy, Moldova, Albania, Israel, Uzbekistan, Hungary, Germany, Serbia, Slovakia, Qatar, Britain and Russia.

Around 380,000 survivors were currently being sheltered in government dormitories or hotels, the vice president said.

Oktay said the country had made “serious headway” in providing cranes to the quake-stricken areas to assist the rescue efforts, adding that more than 500 heavy equipment were sent.

The head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, Khaled Hboubati, is urging the United States and the European Union to lift years-old sanctions imposed on Syria saying the country is in bad need for help following the earthquake.

“I call on for the lifting of sanctions on Syria. This is the most important thing for us,” Hboubati told a news conference Damascus, highlighting the need for construction machinery for the rescue effort.

Sanctions by the United States, the European Union and some Arab countries have been in place since 2011, after President Bashar Assad’s government cracked down on protests against his rule.

Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay said the total number of deaths in Turkey had risen to 3,419, with another 20,534 people injured. That brought the number of people killed to 5,021, with another 1,602 people confirmed dead on the Syrian side of the border.

The earthquake struck early Monday morning, bringing down thousands of buildings. Rescuers were racing frantically to find more survivors but their efforts were being impeded by temperatures below freezing and some 200 aftershocks, which made the search through unstable structures perilous. Turkish government officials earlier said some 13.5 million people were living in quake-damaged areas and that some progress had been made in restoring power and re-opening highways in the disaster affected areas. In Istanbul, meanwhile, thousands of aid volunteers flocked to the city’s main airport offering to participate in the search and rescue efforts. People across Turkey have also rushed to hospitals offering to donate blood. ___

The head of the World Health Organization says the U.N. health agency is sending three chartered flights of medical supplies, including surgical trauma kits, to both Turkey and Syria from its logistics hub in Dubai.

Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the WHO’s executive board in Geneva on Tuesday that “we’re especially concerned about areas where we do not yet have information,” without specifying where those are. He said that “damage mapping is ongoing to understand where we need to focus our attention.”

The agency’s emergencies chief, Dr. Mike Ryan, said that “the scale of this disaster is going to require a sustained response and the secondary impacts of this disaster are going to also going to go on for months and months, especially for those people already affected, already vulnerable for many other reasons in the region, and especially in Syria.”

Monday’s earthquake affected both government- and opposition-held areas in Syria.

WHO’s country representative in Turkey, Batyr Berdyklychev, said the U.N. agency’s field office in Gaziantep, Turkey – which has been providing cross-border operations into parts of Syria – on Monday moved trauma, emergency and surgical supplies to 16 hospitals in northwestern Syria. ___

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will travel to Ankara Wednesday to express his condolences and solidarity with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish people for the “loss of precious lives and destruction” caused by the deadly earthquake, according to a statement from Islamabad. Pakistan has also promised to send aid.

Turkey has deployed more than 24,400 search and rescue personnel to the quake area.

The number was expected to rise with the arrival of additional personnel though the wintry conditions were hampering their deployment, disaster management agency official Orhan Tatar said.

“The adverse weather conditions continue in the region. Therefore, from time to time it may be difficult to transport these search and rescue teams to the region,” he said.

Temperatures overnight in the quake-hit city of Gaziantep sank to -5 C (23 F).

Tatar said 10 ships were helping the rescue efforts, by transporting the wounded to hospitals, mainly from the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun.

About 55 helicopters had conducted 154 sorties to transport emergency aid and around 85 trucks were distributing food, he said.

Tatar said his agency had received 11,342 reports of collapsed buildings, but only 5,775 of those reports have been confirmed. ___

A large fire that broke out at a section of a port in an earthquake-stricken city in southeast Turkey is raging for a second day.

Television images Tuesday showed thick black smoke rising from burning containers at Iskenderun Port on the Mediterranean Sea, in the city of Iskenderun. Reports said the fire was caused by containers that toppled over during the powerful earthquake that struck southeast Turkey on Monday.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said a Turkish Coast Guard vessel was assisting efforts to extinguish the fire.

The medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders says a staff member has been found dead under the rubble of his house in Syria’s Idlib province following the powerful earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey.

The group says other members of the organization also lost families.

“We are very shocked and saddened by the impact of this disaster on the thousands of people touched by it, including our colleagues and their families,” said Sebastien Gay, the group’s head of mission in Syria.

Gay said health facilities in northern Syria were overwhelmed with medical personnel working around the clock to respond to the huge numbers of injured.

The quake-damaged area in Syria is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by government forces and borders Turkey.

Gay said the needs are very high in northwestern Syria, where the earthquake added a dramatic layer for vulnerable people who are still struggling after many years of war. “The massive consequences of this disaster will require a (scaled up) international aid effort,” he said.

India and South Korea are among nations sending rescue personnel and supplies after a devastating earthquake hit Turkey and northern Syria.

India said it would send 100 members of its Natural Disaster Response Force, specially trained dog squads and equipment to Turkey. Medical teams with trained doctors, paramedics and essential medicines are also ready, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

South Korea will dispatch a 60-person search and rescue team with medical supplies. It’s also donating an initial $5 million to Turkey.

In announcing the plan Tuesday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol described Turkey as a “brother nation” that sent troops to fight alongside South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War. Turkey lost more than 700 of its forces in action.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry was arranging plans with related agencies to mobilize military aircraft to transport the rescue workers and aid supplies, ministry spokesperson Jeon Ha Gyu said.

“It’s an obvious decision to help our brother nation Turkey to deal with this pain and difficulty,” Yoon said during a Cabinet meeting. “An incident involving such enormous casualties is more than just a disaster of a certain nation and should be seen as an international disaster, and the international society should fully perform its duty and responsibility.”

War-ravaged Syria is calling on the United Nations and all member states to help with rescue efforts, health services, shelter and food aid following a massive earthquake that killed thousands in Syria and Turkey.

The quake-damaged area in Syria is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by government forces and borders Turkey.

Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bassam Sabbagh, told reporters that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “assured us that the U.N. will do all it’s possible in helping Syria in this very difficult situation.” Sabbagh said he had delivered a letter to Guterres from the country’s foreign minister requesting help.

Sabbagh was asked whether Syria would agree to allow the U.N. to deliver aid through other crossing points from Turkey, if that is feasible. He didn’t respond directly, but said the government is ready to help and coordinate aid deliveries “to all Syrians in all territory of Syria.”

The rebel-held territory has depended on a flow of aid from nearby Turkey for everything from food to medical supplies.

President Joe Biden called Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to express condolences. The White House in statement said that Biden underscored “the readiness of the United States to provide any and all needed assistance” to its NATO ally Turkey.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the Biden administration was sending two, 79-person urban search and rescue teams to support Turkey’s efforts.

Biden and Erdogan discussed other assistance that may be needed by people affected by the earthquakes, including health services or basic relief items, according to the White House.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared seven days of national mourning following the deadly quakes that hit the country Monday. Turkish flags will fly at half-staff across the nation and at its diplomatic missions overseas.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said at least 1,651 were dead and 11,119 injured across 10 provinces. Hundreds more reported dead in neighboring Syria

The Roman Catholic official responsible for the church’s properties across the Middle East is offering food and shelter to victims of Monday’s earthquake.

The Rev. Francesco Patton, the Jerusalem-based Custos of the Holy Land, says he will open all of the church’s buildings in northern Syria to provide shelter for families who have lost their homes.

His office, the Custodia Terrae Sanctae, says the properties can shelter hundreds of people and provide food and medical care for thousands.

Top photo: People search through the rubble of collapsed buildings where a newborn girl was found in the town of Jinderis, Aleppo province, Syria, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. Residents in the northwest Syrian town discovered the crying infant, whose mother gave birth to her while buried underneath the rubble of a five-story apartment building leveled by this week’s devastating earthquake, relatives and a doctor say. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

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