SANLIURFA, Turkey: Rescuers in Turkey and Syria battled frigid cold Tuesday in a race against time to find survivors under buildings flattened by a earthquake that killed more than 6,200 people. Tremors that inflicted more suffering on a border area, already plagued by conflict, left people on the streets burning debris to try to stay warm as international aid began to arrive.
Relief flights of Kuwait’s humanitarian “air bridge” departed Tuesday to Turkey under the directives of HH the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. The launch of the “air bridge” was witnessed by the Head of Kuwait Fire Force Lt Gen Khaled Al-Mekrad and Turkish Ambassador to Kuwait Tuba Nur Sonmez, with the participation of the ministry of foreign affairs, Kuwait Fire Force, Kuwait Red Crescent Society, ministry of health and the Kuwaiti army. The foreign ministry coordinated the launch of the air bridge, while the Kuwaiti army took over the responsibility of transporting cadres, machinery and equipment by air.
Upon instructions of HH the Amir, HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah made a phone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which he expressed condolences. HH the Crown Prince also expressed Kuwait’s solidarity with Turkey and readiness to provide assistance in this difficult time.
Some extraordinary survival tales have emerged, including a newborn baby pulled alive from rubble in Syria, still tied by her umbilical cord to her mother who died in Monday’s quake. “We heard a voice while we were digging,” Khalil Al-Suwadi, a relative, told AFP. “We cleared the dust and found the baby with the umbilical cord (intact) so we cut it and my cousin took her to hospital.” The infant is the sole survivor of her immediate family, the rest of whom were killed in the rebel-held town of Jindayris.
The 7.8-magnitude quake struck Monday as people slept, flattening thousands of structures, trapping an unknown number of people and potentially impacting millions. Whole rows of buildings collapsed, leaving some of the heaviest devastation near the quake’s epicenter between the Turkish cities of Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras. The destruction led to Erdogan declaring Tuesday a three-month state of emergency in 10 southeastern provinces.
Dozens of nations like the United States, China and the Gulf States have pledged to help, and search teams as well as relief supplies have begun to arrive by airplane. “I can’t get my brother back from the ruins. I can’t get my nephew back. Look around here. There is no state official here, for God’s sake,” said Ali Sagiroglu in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras. “For two days we haven’t seen the state around here… Children are freezing from the cold,” he added.
A winter storm has compounded the misery by rendering many roads – some of them damaged by the quake – almost impassable, resulting in traffic jams that stretch for kilometers in some regions. The cold rain and snow are a risk both for people forced from their homes – who took refuge in mosques, schools or even bus shelters – and survivors buried under debris.
“It is now a race against time,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We have activated the WHO network of emergency medical teams to provide essential health care for the injured and most vulnerable,” he added. The latest toll showed 4,544 people killed in Turkey and 1,712 in Syria, for a combined total of 6,256 fatalities. 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.
The Syrian Red Crescent appealed to Western countries to lift sanctions and provide aid as President Bashar al-Assad’s government remains a pariah in the West, complicating international relief efforts. Washington and the European Commission said on Monday that humanitarian programs supported by them were responding to the destruction in Syria.
The UN’s cultural agency UNESCO also said it was ready to provide assistance after two sites listed on its World Heritage list in Syria and Turkey sustained damage. In addition to the damage to Aleppo’s old city and the fortress in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, UNESCO said at least three other World Heritage sites could be affected.
Much of the quake-hit area of northern Syria has already been decimated by years of war and aerial bombardment by Syrian and Russia forces that destroyed homes, hospitals and clinics. Residents in the quake-devastated town of Jandairis in northern Syria used their bare hands and pickaxes to for survivors, as that was all they had to get the job done.
“My whole family is under there – my sons, my daughter, my son-in-law… There’s no one else to get them out,” said Ali Battal, his face streaked with blood and head swathed in a wool shawl against the bitter cold. “I hear their voices. I know they’re alive but there’s no one to rescue them,” adds the man in his 60s.
The Syrian health ministry reported damage across the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Tartus, where Russia is leasing a naval facility. Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo – Syria’s pre-war commercial hub – often collapsed due to the dilapidated infrastructure. Following the earthquake, prisoners mutinied at a jail holding mostly Islamic State group members in northwestern Syria, with at least 20 escaping, a source at the facility said. – Agencies