Rescues dwindle in Turkey after earthquake, giving way to grief and anger
KAHRAMANMARAS/ANTAKYA, Turkey – A teenage girl was pulled alive from the rubble in Turkey on Thursday more than 10 days after a devastating earthquake hit the region, but such rescues have become increasingly rare, leaving anger to smoulder as hope dies.
The 17-year-old was extracted from the ruins of a collapsed apartment bloc in Turkey’s southeastern Kahramanmaras province, broadcaster TRT Haber reported, 248 hours since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck in the dead of night on Feb. 6.
Footage showed her being carried away on a stretcher covered with a gold-coloured thermal blanket while an emergency worker held an intravenous drip aloft.
The quake killed at least 36,187 in southern Turkey, while authorities in neighbouring Syria have reported 5,800 deaths – a figure that has changed little in days.
International aid agencies are stepping up efforts to help the millions of people left homeless, many of whom are sleeping in tents, mosques, schools or in their own cars.
The United Nations on Thursday appealed for more than $1 billion in funds for the Turkish relief operation, just two days after launching a $400 million appeal for Syrians.
U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths, who visited Turkey last week, said the people have “experienced unspeakable heartache,” adding: “We must stand with them in their darkest hour and ensure they receive the support they need.”
Several people were found alive in Turkey on Wednesday, but the number of rescues has dwindled significantly. Neither Turkey nor Syria have said how many people are still missing.
For families still waiting to retrieve their lost relatives, there is growing anger over what they see as corrupt building practices and deeply flawed urban development that resulted in thousands of homes and businesses disintegrating.
“I have two children. No others. They are both under this rubble,” said Sevil Karaabdüloğlu, as excavators tore down what remained of a high-end block of flats in the southern city of Antakya, where her two daughters had lived.
Around 650 people are believed to have died when the Renaissance Residence building collapsed in the quake.
“We rented this place as an elite place, a safe place. How do I know that the contractor built it this way? … Everyone is looking to make a profit. They’re all guilty,” she said.
Some 200 km (125 miles) away, around 100 people gathered at a small cemetery in the town of Pazarcik, to bury a family of four — Ismail and Selin Yavuzatmaca and their two young daughters — who all died in the doomed Renaissance building.
Turkey has promised to investigate anyone suspected of responsibility for the collapse of buildings and has ordered the detention of more than 100 suspects, including developers.
Across the border in Syria, the earthquake slammed a region divided and devastated by 12 years of civil war.
The Syrian government says the death toll in territory it controls is 1,414. More than 4,000 fatalities have been reported in the rebel-held northwest, but rescuers say nobody has been found alive there since Feb. 9.
The aid effort has been hampered by the conflict and many people in the northwest feel abandoned as supplies almost invariably head to other parts of the sprawling disaster zone.
Deliveries from Turkey were severed completely in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, when a route used by the United Nations was temporarily blocked. Earlier this week, days after the disaster, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad granted approval for two additional crossings to be opened.
As of Thursday, 119 U.N. trucks had gone through the Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam crossings since the earthquake, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told Reuters.
Meanwhile, a convoy of 15 aid trucks from Qatar reached the rebel-held town of Afrin, bringing desperately needed food, essential medicines and tents.
“Many people are injured and are in need of medical care. Those trucks contain the necessary medical devices to set up makeshift clinics,” said Abdallah Rajab, a food security official with the Qatar charity.
Jagan Chapagain, secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the crisis would be protracted and announced his organisation would scale up its appeal more than three-fold for both countries.
“Its impact on people will not be over in three months, so we are having a 24-month perspective,” he said in Beirut, on his way from Syria to Turkey.
The potential economic impact of the earthquake in Turkey could result in a loss of up to 1% of the country’s gross domestic product this year, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said in a report published on Thursday.
U.S. bank JPMorgan estimated that the direct cost of the destruction of physical structures in Turkey could amount to 2.5% of growth domestic product, or $25 billion.
Heavy machinery was trying to clear mounds of debris that block numerous towns and cities in southeast Turkey, including in Adiyaman. Many survivors have fled the disaster zones, but some have decided to stay, despite the dreadful conditions.
“We spend our days with bread, soup and meals as part of the aid sent by people. We don’t have a life anymore. We are afraid,” said Mustafa Akan, who sleeps outdoors and stays warm by burning wood in a bucket.