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Turkey, Syria Earthquake Death Toll Reaches 7,200

VOA

Rescue crews in Turkey and Syria worked Tuesday to find survivors buried in the rubble of buildings toppled by powerful earthquakes that struck the region Monday and left more than 7,200 people dead.

After a night in which temperatures fell close to freezing, there were more aftershocks a day after the 7.8 magnitude quake. More than 20 of them measured a magnitude of 4.0 or greater, shaking the territory along the border between the two countries.

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed support for the people of Turkey and Syria “in this moment of unspeakable grief,” and said the casualty figures do not capture “the grief and loss being experienced by families right now who have lost a mother, a father, a daughter, a son beneath the rubble — or who don’t know whether their loved ones are alive or dead.”

Speaking at a WHO meeting in Geneva, Tedros said the organization is sending charter flights to both countries with medical supplies and that it will work to support them as they recover and rebuild.

“This is a moment when we must come together in solidarity, as one humanity, to save lives and alleviate the suffering of people who have already suffered so much,” he said.

Turkey’s emergency disaster management agency said it was conducting operations by road and by air to get supplies and crews to areas affected by the earthquakes. Those efforts were being backed by a growing number of other governments and aid agencies that have sent teams and resources to the region.

On a traffic-jammed, snowy road between the cities of Kırşehir and Kayseri, VOA Turkish spoke with people who were on their way to the affected area with aid. Çetin Kılıç said his truck was carrying blankets and food.

“We will do whatever is necessary,” he said.

The epicenter of Monday’s pre-dawn earthquake was near Gaziantep, close to the Turkey-Syria border, and it was followed by a separate magnitude 7.5 earthquake about 100 kilometres north in the early afternoon.

Officials in Turkey said Tuesday more than 5,400 people were killed and more than 15,000 others injured. They said more than 7,800 people had been rescued and that at least 6,200 buildings had collapsed. Syria reported at least 1,800 deaths and about 3,500 injuries, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue groups.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared seven days of national mourning and a three-month state of emergency in 10 provinces directly affected by the quake.

Erdogan described the earthquake as “unique in the world,” and he thanked Qatar for offering 10,000 container homes for people left homeless.

Search teams and emergency aid from throughout the world poured into Turkey and Syria as rescue workers dug through the rubble in a desperate search for survivors. Some voices that had been crying out for help fell silent.

“We could hear their voices, they were calling for help,” said Ali Silo, whose two relatives could not be saved in the Turkish town of Nurdagi.

More than 8,000 people have been pulled from the debris in Turkey alone, Vice President Fuat Oktay said, and some 380,000 have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels. They huddled in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centers, while others spent the night outside wrapped in blankets gathering around fires.

In the Turkish city of Mersin, resident Nurhan Kiral told VOA’s Turkish Service that the earthquake lasted about a minute.

“We woke up with the tremor and got out of the bed. Rubble fell from the chimney. Rubble fell from the empty space between the buildings. It was terrifying,” Kiral said.

Residents in Turkey’s western city of Izmir organized a clothing donation campaign to help the earthquake victims.

Emre Demirpolat told VOA’s Turkish Service, “We brought blankets and heaters. We need to be united … In such bad times, we must support each other. While we can’t stay outside for 10 minutes in this cold, people there, shudder to think about the loss of their homes and when they will get to go to a warm place.”

In other parts of Turkey, residents struggled to find transportation to travel to the earthquake-stricken area to see their relatives and loved ones.

Serdar Özdemir, an Ankara resident, told VOA’s Turkish Service he was finally able to get a bus ticket to go to the city Malatya, after not being able to find a car rental.

“I can’t rent a car. There’s no way to go. I have been looking for a car here for hours.”

Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. In 1999, more than 17,000 people were killed when a 7.4 magnitude earthquake — the worst to hit Turkey in decades — struck near Duzce, in the northwest of the country.

In October 2022, a magnitude 7.0 quake hit the Aegean Sea, killing 116 people and injuring more than 1,000. All but two of the victims were in Izmir, Turkey.

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