© Reuters. A view of the destruction following the earthquake in the town of Kahramanmaras, Turkey February 10, 2023. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah
By Henriette Chacar and Ali Kucukgocmen
KAHRAMANMARAS/ANTAKYA, Turkey (Reuters) -Rescuers in Turkey pulled a handful of people alive from collapsed buildings on Monday and were digging to reach a grandmother, mother and daughter from a single family, a week after the country’s worst earthquake in modern history.
Hopes of finding many more survivors were fading as the combined death toll in Turkey and neighbouring Syria from the 7.8 magnitude quake on Feb. 6 and a massive tremor just hours later climbed above 37,000.
In the shattered Syrian city of Aleppo, U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said the rescue phase was “coming to a close”, with the focus switching to shelter, food and schooling.
As a Polish team said they would head home on Wednesday, rescuers in Turkish cities cheered when people were freed from seven days under the rubble. But in many places, the grief was still overwhelming as more bodies were found and relatives blamed the government for a slow response.
In the southeastern Turkish city of Adiyaman, a young girl named Miray was recovered alive and a 35-year-old woman was also rescued, officials said.
Another woman was pulled from under crumbled masonry and twisted steel rods in Antakya and was applauded as she was placed into an ambulance, a video shared online by Istanbul’s mayor showed. Broadcaster Haberturk reported another woman and two children were also rescued in Antakya.
THREE GENERATIONS TRAPPED
In one dramatic rescue attempt in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, rescuers said they had contact with a grandmother, mother and baby trapped in a room in the remains of three-storey building. Rescuers were digging a second tunnel to reach them, after a first route was blocked.
“I have a very strong feeling we are going to get them,” said Burcu Baldauf, head of the Turkish voluntary healthcare team. “It’s already a miracle. After seven days, they are there with no water, no food and in good condition.”
On the same street, emergency workers covered a body in a black bag. “This is your brother,” one grieving woman said, with another wailing. “No, no.”
The Turkish toll now exceeds the 31,643 killed in a quake in 1939, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority said, making it the worst quake in Turkey’s modern history.
The total death toll in Syria, a nation ravaged by more than a decade of civil war, has reached 5,714, including those who died in a rebel enclave and government-held areas.
It is the sixth most deadly natural disaster this century, behind the 2005 tremor that killed at least 73,000 in Pakistan.
Turkey faces a bill of up to $84.1 billion, a business group said.
AN ELECTION YEAR
“People are not dead because of the earthquake, they are dead because of precautions that weren’t taken earlier,” said Said Qudsi, who travelled quake-hit Kahramanmaras from Istanbul and buried his uncle, aunt and their two sons, while their two daughters were still missing.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who faces an election scheduled for June that is expected to be the toughest of his two decades in power, acknowledged problems in the initial response but said the situation was now under control.
Residents and aid workers from several Turkish cities complained of worsening security in the devastated areas, while Turkish authorities have been cracking down on social media accounts that they said had “provocative” posts that spread fear and panic. Police said they detaining 56 people on Monday.
The International Monetary Fund called for an international effort to help Syria, where the rebel-held northwest has received little aid.
Only one crossing from Turkey into Syria is now open for U.N. aid, although the United Nations says it hopes to open two more.
Aid from government-held regions to areas controlled by hardline opposition groups has been held up. A source from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an Islamist group which controls much of the region, told Reuters the group would not let in shipments from government-held areas and aid would come from Turkey.
There was growing frustration among aid workers and civilians in Syria’s rebel-held areas.
“We called from the early days of the catastrophe on the U.N. to intervene immediately,” the head of the Turkey-backed opposition coalition Salem al Muslet said. “The U.N. wants to exonerate itself from letting down the liberated areas.”