It was announced Thursday, that the death toll from this week’s earthquakes had exceeded 22,000, making it the deadliest such disaster in more than a decade, as yellow excavators dug long trenches near a pine forest in Karamanmara, Turkey to provide burial space for hundreds of people who had been rescued from collapsed buildings.
As a small battalion of gravediggers, prosecutors, mortuary workers, and others descended on the makeshift cemetery outside Kahramanmaras, a city near the epicenter of the initial quake it was clear that a massive effort was required in the coming weeks to bury the victims.
The earthquakes left tens of thousands of people displaced and desperate efforts were still underway to rescue survivors. A U.N. aid convoy entered rebel-held northwest Syria through Turkey on Thursday the first since the earthquake disaster flattened neighborhoods in both countries.
Since the civil war divided Syria into areas controlled by the government and opposition, recovery efforts have been hindered. As a result of damage to delivery routes aid has been delayed to the rebel enclave, where millions of people are living in camps.
There was little hope of finding more survivors in the wreckage on both sides of the border and survivors and opposition politicians in Turkey expressed frustration at the government’s slow and haphazard response.
Temperatures Below Freezing Hamper Efforts
Even as international teams arrive in Turkey with equipment and rescue dogs to detect humans beneath the wreckage, freezing temperatures have lengthened the odds. In a race against time rescue workers continued to pull survivors out of the rubble in Turkey and rebel-held Syria, including children.
State media reported Thursday that Vice President Fuat Oktay said the death toll in Turkey had reached 17,674 and that 72,000 people had been injured. Due to the extent of damage caused by the earthquakes – which registered 7.8 and 7.5 on the Richter scale – it is not yet clears the full impact. Already the quakes rank as the deadliest earthquake disaster in more than a decade.
According to the State Department, three U.S. citizens were killed in southern Turkey.
According to state media, the death toll in government-held parts of Syria has risen to 2000, with 2,795 injured. In Syria’s northwest, civil defense volunteers report more than 2,030 dead and 2,950 injured.
According to Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, six trucks carrying humanitarian supplies crossed into opposition-held Syria on Thursday due to severe damage to the road.
The Turkish side identified two routes that will be used from now on, since the regular one was too damaged. We consider this a test, so things can resume.
Aid deliveries to rebel-held regions rely on votes by the United Nations Security Council. In 2020, Russia a permanent member of the council forced all but one aid crossing to close.
The convoy carried enough blankets, tents, and lamps to meet the needs of “at least 15,000 people,” the UN said.
Syrian Civil Defense, which is leading rescue efforts in northwest Syria said the delivery was normal aid and didn’t include specialized assistance or excavation tools.
The White Helmets, an aid group operating in the region outside of government control, said Syrians “desperately need equipment to save lives.”
Experts Are Being Deployed By The UN
U.N. Secretary-General Antnio Guterres said Thursday that humanitarian needs in northwest Syria were already at their highest since the civil war began. “And we’re committed to doing much more,” Guterres told reporters as the United Nations deploys disaster assessment experts, coordinates search-and-rescue teams, and sends emergency relief.
10,000 Turkish Lire For Families
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Gaziantep on Thursday, where residential blocks were destroyed by the quakes and Osmaniye and Kills.
Considering the magnitude and impact of the disaster we have experienced there may be delays and shortcomings,” he said.
Government sources estimate that more than 8000 buildings were destroyed and Erdogan pledged the Turkish government would offer families 10,000 Turkish lire or about $530.
According to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, nearly 100 countries and hundreds of nongovernmental organizations have provided medical aid to Turkey while more than 6,300 emergency personnel have arrived from 56 countries. Turkey also received $1.78 billion in relief and recovery aid from the World Bank.
U.S. disaster response teams helped with search-and-rescue operations in Adiyaman. USAID administrator Samantha Power announced the United States will provide $85 million in humanitarian assistance to Turkey and Syria.
Children Are The Most Affected By The Lack Of Equipment
Aid agencies distributed tents and blankets to survivors in southern Turkey; families with missing loved ones sifted through debris without assistance heavy equipment has taken days to arrive in some locations.
Mohammed Farhan Khalid, the leader of a Pakistani rescue team in Adiyaman compared the Turkish earthquakes to a 2005 quake in Kashmir that killed tens of thousands.
Several children have also been orphaned by the disaster. Sixteen babies were flown from Kahramanmaras in the south to Ankara to be cared for by state institutions.
The internet-monitoring group Net Blocks later reported that Twitter services were restored after Turkish policymakers met with Twitter officials on Wednesday.
Erdogan is facing an election in a few months, and recovering from the earthquakes will be a major test of his decades-long grip on power.
A three-month state of emergency began Thursday in 10 quake-affected provinces in Turkey, after a vote in the Turkish parliament. Turkey’s disaster management agency quoted Erdogan as saying the declaration would allow authorities to stop people from looting stores and take action against groups trying to profit from the tragedy.
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