Rescue crews in Turkey and Syria are racing against time Thursday and a lack of equipment to find survivors buried in the rubble of buildings toppled by powerful earthquakes that struck the region Monday and left more than 16,000 people dead so far. Turkey’s disaster management agency (AFAD) said today that about 110,000 personnel are involved in rescue efforts and 5,500 vehicles such as tractors, cranes, bulldozers and excavators have been shipped to assist the country reeling from the earthquake.
Rescuers are still finding people alive but are unable to reach them without the needed equipment and expertise, even as they could hear cries for help. Search sites also have been the scene of some celebrations as people are found alive and taken away for medical care. But uncovering the rubble has also meant frequent increases in the number of casualties.
The epicenter of Monday’s pre-dawn earthquake was in Pazarcik, near the city of Gaziantep, close to the Turkey-Syria border. Officials in Turkey said at least 12,873 people were killed and more than 60,000 others were injured. In Syria, at least 3,162 have died, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue groups.
Search teams and emergency aid from throughout the world poured into Turkey as rescue workers dug through the rubble in a desperate search for survivors. According to a UN spokesman, more than 40 urban search and rescue teams from Turkey and 19 other countries are deployed.
The majority of these teams are coordinated by the Turkish Disaster Management Agency (AFAD) and a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team of 45 staff located in hubs throughout affected areas of Gaziantep, Hatay, Adimayan and Kahramanmaras. A separate UNDAC team is on its way to Syria to support the response there.
More than 8,000 people have been pulled from the debris in Turkey, and about 380,000 have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels, according to government sources. People huddled in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centers, while others spent the night outside wrapped in blankets gathering around fires.
An estimated 23 million people reportedly are affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, the most powerful to hit the region in almost 100 years. While the latest reports put the number of people killed at more than 16,000, the World Health Organization says it expects the death toll to rise to about 20,000. The earthquake is now the world’s deadliest seismic event since a 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people in Japan.
While a huge humanitarian operation is slowly gathering steam in Turkey, similar efforts in Syria are barely able to get off the ground. Political tensions between Turkey and its northern neighbor could compound the difficulties for aid workers to adequately respond to the crisis in Syria.
The earthquake struck a region enveloped on both sides of the border by more than a decade of civil war in Syria. On the Syrian side, the swath affected is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is home to millions of refugees from the conflict.
Syria's 12-year-long civil conflict has displaced more than 6.8 million people inside the country. Before the quakes hit, 4.1 million people were in northwest Syria in need of humanitarian assistance, the majority of whom are women and children.
In north-west Syria, community-based rescue teams are engaged in the ongoing search for people trapped under the debris of collapsed houses. The lack of heavy machines to remove rubble, as well as poor weather conditions, are complicating these efforts. In other parts of Syria, humanitarians report the urgent need for assistance, logistics, skilled rescue teams, and temporary shelters.
The U.N. resident coordinator for Syria said Wednesday that 10.9 million people have been affected across the country by the earthquake. Before the quake, there were already 15.3 million in need of humanitarian assistance in the country, due to more than a decade of civil war.
“So, it’s a crisis on top of a crisis,” El-Mostafa Benlamlih told reporters at the United Nations in New York during a video briefing from Damascus Wednesday. He said in Aleppo alone, they estimate a third of homes have been damaged or destroyed, displacing around 100,000 people.
Humanitarians are coping with a shortage of fuel for their operations, as well as freezing temperatures and damaged roads and infrastructure. The World Food Program has prepositioned food stocks in the area, which Benlamlih said are enough to feed 100,000 people for one week. The World Health Organization has two planes with medical supplies coming from its hub in Dubai to Damascus. But more supplies need to come in urgently.
The World Food Program appealed Wednesday for $46 million to provide food assistance to a half-million people in Turkey and Syria for the next three to four months. Furthermore, the main road the United Nations uses to get aid from Gaziantep in Turkey to the transshipment point into northwest Syria was damaged in the quake and closed.
“So we couldn’t send any relief items; we were looking for alternative routes,” Muhannad Hadi, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, told reporters from Amman, Jordan. He said they had word Wednesday that the road is opening, and they could start delivering some supplies as early as Thursday.
Donate now to help the victims of the Turkey-Syria Earthquakes
- UN Crisis Relief: Türkiye-Syria Earthquake Appeal
- World Food Programme (WFP): Earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria
- UNHCR: Türkiye-Syria Earthquake Emergency
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC): Syria Earthquake
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC): Türkiye Earthquake
- CARE International: Turkey Syria Earthquakes Fund
- Concern worldwide: Turkey-Syria Earthquake Emergency Appeal
- Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC): Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal