Rescue efforts slow as quake toll tops 35,000

KAHRAMANMARAS, Turkey: Rescue teams began to wind down the search for survivors on Monday, a week after an earthquake devastated parts of Turkey and Syria leaving more than 35,000 dead and millions in dire need of aid. While the focus switched to helping desperate survivors who lack food and shelter, stories continue to emerge of people found alive in the rubble seven days after the 7.8-magnitude tremor.

On Monday, a 12-year-old boy named Kaan was pulled from the debris in southern Hatay, 182 hours after the fifth-deadliest earthquake of the 21st century, Turkish media reported. However, experts warn hopes of finding people alive are dimming. The confirmed death toll stands at 35,224 as officials and medics said 31,643 people had died in Turkey and at least 3,581 in Syria. The United Nations said it expects the toll to rise far higher.

Survivors face a lack water and poor sanitation. In southern Adiyaman an outbreak of scabies – a skin disease known to spread in crowded areas – is affecting adults, while children are suffering from diarrhea, local media reported. Hatice Goz, a volunteer psychologist in Turkey’s Hatay province, said she has been fielding “a barrage of calls” from frantic parents looking for missing children.

In Antakya, clean-up teams have been shifting rubble and putting up basic toilets as the telephone network started to come back in parts of the town, an AFP reporter said. The city was patrolled by police and soldiers deployed to prevent looting following several incidents over the weekend. “Send any stuff you can because there are millions of people here and they all need to be fed,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu appealed late on Sunday.

Aid packages, mainly clothes, were opened and spread across the streets in Hatay province, according to NTV. One video showed aid workers throwing clothes randomly into a crowd as people tried to grab whatever they could. Soylu said rescue efforts had ended in seven parts of Kahramanmaras, where authorities report that 30,000 tents have been set up, with tens of thousands of people sheltering in schools and sports halls.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay late on Sunday said 108,000 buildings were damaged across the quake-hit zone with 1.2 million people being housed in student accommodation and 400,000 people evacuated from the affected region. The economic cost of the disaster could be as much as $84.1 billion, Turkish employers’ association Turkonfed said in a report Monday.

In Syria, the toll has not changed for several days and is expected to rise. The United Nations has decried the slow arrival of aid in war-torn regions of the country, where basic infrastructure and healthcare have been ravaged by 12 years of civil war. Nurse anesthetist Abdelbaset Khalil described tending to hundreds of patients, despite his own trauma. “I was tending to people in the hospital while my wife and daughter were under the rubble,” Khalil told AFP in the city of Harim in the rebel-held Idlib province on the border with Turkey. The first day was “extremely trying and very hard”, he said. “It passed like 50 years.”

On Monday, the UN’s relief chief Martin Griffiths visited Aleppo, where more than 200,000 people have been left homeless by the earthquake, according to the WHO. A 10-truck UN convoy has crossed from Turkey into northwest Syria via the only open border crossing to the region, carrying shelter kits, an AFP correspondent reported Sunday. However, UN officials said more was needed for millions whose homes were destroyed. “Our focus now is on helping the Syrian people,” said UN envoy Geir Pedersen in Damascus.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that Damascus had given the all-clear for aid convoys from government areas, but that the WHO was still waiting for a green light from rebel-held areas before going in. “The compounding crises of conflict, COVID, cholera, economic decline and now the earthquake have taken an unbearable toll,” Tedros said. – AFP

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