The catastrophic earthquake that razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria became one of the deadliest quakes worldwide in more than a decade and the death toll kept rising, approaching 22,000. Rescue crews braved freezing overnight temperatures in quake-hit areas in both countries in the hope of reaching survivors and pulling more bodies from the rubble. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal in 2015 killed more than 8,800 people.
Thousands of buildings collapsed and aid agencies are particularly worried about northwestern Syria, where more than 4 million people were already relying on humanitarian assistance. Freezing weather conditions are further endangering survivors and complicating rescue efforts, as more than 100 aftershocks have struck the region.
The death toll from the catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria on Monday has climbed to more than 22,000 people, mostly due to a jump in the number for Turkey. The toll for Syria remains relatively static – although aid agencies have warned that the number will likely be much higher.
Search and rescue efforts are still underway, bolstered by aid groups and countries that have rushed teams to the worst-hit areas, but they are battling grim conditions with thousands of collapsed buildings and freezing temperatures.
In response to the devastating earthquakes impacting Turkiye and the Syrian Arab Republic, the World Health Organization delivered 72 metric tons of trauma and emergency surgery supplies, including treatments, to both countries to support ongoing response efforts.
According to media reports, the US military sent two civilian urban search and rescue teams to Turkey to help with relief efforts and the European Union has announced a donor conference to raise funds for Turkey and Syria. Australia is deploying 72 search and rescue specialists to Turkey. The Syrian government says it has set up more than 100 shelters equipped with aid supplies for those affected by the earthquake across government-controlled areas.
Extreme winter weather is impacting rescue efforts. Aftershocks are also a potential hazard — at least 125 measuring 4.0 or greater have occurred since the 7.8 magnitude quake struck southern Turkey on Monday, according to the US Geological Survey. Though their frequency and magnitude are decreasing, 5.0 to 6.0+ aftershocks are still possible and bring a risk of additional damage to compromised structures and a continued threat to rescue teams and survivors.
While Turkey has received an outpouring of support and aid from dozens of countries after the earthquake, outreach to Syria has been less enthusiastic, and analysts warn that Syrian victims may become hostages of the politics that have divided Syria for over a decade. In wake of the earthquake, Syria's government has ramped up its calls for the removal of economic US and EU sanctions. The measures were imposed on Syria to pressure the regime into a political process that could put an end to the ongoing civil conflict.
According to media reports, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted to “shortcomings” amid growing anger over the state’s response to the massive quake. Trading on Istanbul’s stock exchange was halted on Wednesday after the main index dropped 7% in early dealing, according to Turkey’s Central Securities Depository.
There have been some dramatic rescues, including that of two sisters who had spent 62 hours under the rubble of their collapsed building in Gaziantep, Turkey. The death toll following the catastrophic earthquake that shook Turkey and Syria on Monday has risen to at least 15,383, according to authorities.
Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Agency on Thursday said that the death toll in Turkey surged by more than 3,000 in a matter of hours and is now at 12,391, and death toll in Syria is at least 2,992, including 1,730 in rebel-held areas in the northwest, according to the "White Helmets" civil defense group, as well as an additional 1,262 deaths in government-controlled parts of Syria, Syrian state media informed.
So far, the UAE, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Algeria and India have sent relief directly to regime-controlled airports. Others such as Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, China, Canada and the Vatican have pledged aid, though it is unclear if that relief will be sent directly to the regime.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Syrian government said it has set up more than a hundred shelters equipped with aid supplies for those affected by the earthquake across government-controlled areas, including in the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Tartus and Latakia, a coastal city which has the highest number of earthquake deaths counted in Syria so far, and over 100 collapsed buildings.
The World Health Organization said it is scaling up its response in Syria and Turkey because diseases already present — particularly in Syria — will be amplified, including cholera and respiratory illnesses.
Robert Holden, WHO incident manager for the earthquake response, said the emphasis in Turkey and Syria is to ensure “those that survived the initial disaster continue to survive going forward.”
The agency is sending $3 million to help support the emergency response and is “working with partners to provide specialized medical care,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said and added that “With the weather conditions and ongoing aftershocks, we are in a race against time to save lives. People need shelter, food, clean water and medical care for injuries resulting from the earthquake, but also for other health needs.”
The World Health Organization is sending medical teams and three flights of medical supplies, including surgical trauma kits, to Turkey and Syria following the devastating earthquake this week. A “high-level delegation” is also on the way to the region to help coordinate WHO’s response, it said.
According to the US Geological Survey, many people in Turkey who were affected by the earthquake live in structures that are extremely likely to be damaged by shaking, with unreinforced brick masonry and low-rise concrete frames.
In a study published last March in Soil Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering, Arzu Arslan Kelam at the Middle East Technical University, Ankara, and her colleagues suggested that the centre of the city of Gaziantep would experience medium-to-severe damage from a magnitude-6.5 earthquake. This is because most existing buildings are low-rise brick structures that are constructed very close to each other.
In 1999, a magnitude-7.4 earthquake hit 11 kilometres southeast of Izmit, Turkey, killing more than 17,000 people and leaving more than 250,000 homeless. After this tragedy, the Turkish government introduced new building codes and a compulsory earthquake insurance system. However, many of the buildings affected by this week’s quake were built before 2000, says Mustafa Erdik, a civil engineer at Bogaziçi University, Turkey in a Wall Street Journal news report.
Things are worse in Syria, where more than 11 years of conflict have made building standards impossible to enforce. The earthquake struck Syria’s northwestern regions, with buildings collapsing in Aleppo and Idlib. Some war-damaged buildings in Syria have been rebuilt using low-quality materials or “whatever materials are available”, says Rothery. “They might have fallen down more readily than things that were built at somewhat greater expense. We’ve yet to find out,” he added.
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