The earthquake-related death toll in Turkey has passed 16,000, and the city of Kahramanmaras has been built to house millions of people since the 2011 earthquake
Experts say the growing death tolls — more than 39,000 in Turkey and Syria — reflect how important search and rescue efforts are within the first 12 hours to two days.
In other parts of Syria controlled by the government, the Syrian Health Ministry said more than 1,200 people have died from the earthquake. The overall death toll across Syria and Turkey has passed 16,000, according to The Associated Press. Thousands of people have been injured.
New housing for the city of Kahramanmaras, also known as Maras, which was near the epicenter of last week’s earthquake, is one of the top achievements of the government of Turkey, according to a video taken during a campaign stop.
Hamideh had to wait outside the building where she lived with her family to find out if her son survived.
The conflict has isolated many areas of Syria and complicated efforts to get aid in. On Friday, the first earthquake-related aid convoy crossed from Turkey into northwestern Syria a day after an aid shipment was supposed to arrive.
The disaster compounded suffering in a region beset by Syria’s 12-year civil war, which has displaced millions of people within the country and left them dependent on aid. The fighting sent millions more to seek refuge in Turkey.
More than 320,000 people are homeless because of the disaster and the emergency management agency has set up more than 70,000 tents to house them.
Earthquakes and aftershocks in Turkey: The impact of a major earthquake on the northwestern region of Gaziantep, Syria
“Events like this are devastating but remind us of the importance of scientific research and how we can put that research into practice by using building codes and retrofitting,” stated Lindsay Davis the earthquake disaster assistance team manager.
Most of Turkey sits on the Anatolian plate between two major faults: the North Anatolian Fault and the East Anatolian Fault. David Rothery is a scientist at the Open University in England and he says that the southern part of the plate is squeezing Turkey out towards the west. He says Turkey is moving 2 centimetres a year along the East Anatolian Fault. The length of this fault is now lit up by earthquakes.
The epicentre of the main earthquake was 26 kilometres east of the city of Nurdaği in Turkey’s Gaziantep province, at a depth of 17.9 kilometres. The magnitude-7.5 event occurred around 4 kilometres southeast of Ekinözü in the Kahramanmaraş province (see ‘Earthquakes and aftershocks’).
In a study1 published last March in Soil Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering, Arzu Arslan Kelam at the Middle East Technical University, Ankara, and her colleagues suggested that the centre of the city of Gaziantep would experience medium-to-severe damage from a magnitude-6.5 earthquake. This is because most existing buildings are low-rise brick structures that are constructed very close to each other.
Things are worse in Syria, where more than 11 years of conflict have made building standards impossible to enforce. The earthquake struck Syria’s northwestern regions, with buildings collapsing in Aleppo and Idlib. Some war-ravished buildings in Syria have been rebuilt with low-quality materials or whatever materials are available. “They might have fallen down more readily than things that were built at somewhat greater expense. We’ve yet to find out,” he adds.
The Miracle of a Child Born Under the Rubble: Karam Kellieh and the Unsuccessful Response to a Decade-long Syrian Civil War
Even though experts say that people can survive for a week or more, the odds of finding survivors were quickly waning. Rescuers were shifting to thermal cameras to help identify life amid the rubble, a sign that any remaining survivors could be too weak to call for help.
A day earlier, another video went viral showing volunteer rescuers in a different part of the rebel-held territory saving a family — two girls, a boy and their father — from under the rubble some 40 hours after the quake.
Istanbul’s stock exchange closed until Feb. 15 after initial trading showed rapid declines, triggering a circuit breaker when declines reached 7%. The Turkish economy was already reeling from out-of-control inflation.
The crowd chants “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for God is Great. In rebel-held northwestern Syria a child is pulled out of rubble by volunteers and civil defense groups.
The world knows of these rescues because of Karam Kellieh, a resident and photojournalist who lives in the opposition-controlled territory. The area is home to some 4 million people displaced by the decade-long Syrian civil war. The area was ravaged by bombs and poverty before the earthquake. Aid was often hampered by politics and the Syrian government.
He said humanitarian aid and international aid have not appeared 72 hours after the earthquake.
Civil Defense groups are carrying out rescue efforts while people are trying to help. “Everyone’s waiting for international rescue and aid just to be able to process what’s happened, this catastrophe.”
Local authorities say 11,000 families in the rebel-held part of Syria are now homeless after the quake. The number of deaths and injuries has been reported by the United Nations.
Rescue efforts continue even as other people are trapped in the rubble. The stories of babies being born under the rubble, and of miraculous rescues, are bullhorns for what’s at stake.
“The situation remains grim in north-west Syria where only five percent of reported sites are being covered by search and rescue,” the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report.
People are digging with their own hands in many areas, but the situation is particularly dire in northwestern Syria, where there is little heavy machinery to lift rubble. Power outages have resulted in fuel shortages in hospitals.
The damage caused by Monday’s devastating earthquake in Turkey can be seen in new satellite imagery.
The buildings are six stories tall and debris litters the street. The building underneath is collapsing, but one of the roofs is not.
The town’s “Great Garden,” normally a verdant green space with benches and shops, is now full of tents, likely to shelter survivors and emergency crews.
At least two large high-rise buildings, located just south of the park, have collapsed. There are four more collapsed on the northern side of the park.
A significant number of vehicles are seen in the area. Many of the buildings that are still standing have a lot of debris around them.
The Narli Family of Gaziantep, Islahyla, Iraq, and a Young Girl in Hatay
The Narli family was rescued from their home in central Kahramanmaras, 133 hours after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck. Nehir Naz Narli was saved by both of her parents.
That followed the rescue of a family of five from a pile of debris in the town of the same name, that is in Gaziantep province. Rescuers cheered and chanted, “God is Great!” as the last family member, the father, was lifted to safety.
“In some parts of our settlements close to the fault line, we can say that almost no stone was left standing,” he said earlier Saturday from Diyarbakir.
Melisa Ulku, a woman in her 20s, was extricated from the rubble in Elbistan in the 132th hour since the quake, following the rescue of another person at the same site in the same hour. Ahead of her rescue, police announced that people shouldn’t cheer or clap in order to not interfere with other rescue efforts nearby. She was covered with a blanket on the stretcher. Rescuers were hugging. Some people shouted that God is great.
A father and daughter were pulled from the debris in the town of Islahyla, Gaziantep province, at the same time as a young girl was rescued in the province of Hatay.
The rescues brought shimmers of joy amid overwhelming devastation days after Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake and a powerful aftershock hours later caused thousands of buildings to collapse, killing more than 25,000, injuring another 80,000 and leaving millions homeless.
Not everything ended so well. Rescuers in the debris of a collapsed building in Hatay province in western Turkey intubated a 13-year old girl. She died before medical teams could free her from the rubble, according to Hurriyet newspaper.
A 99-member group from the Indian Army’s medical assistance team began treating the injured in a temporary field hospital in Iskenderun, where the main hospital was demolished after aid arrived.
Wincing in pain, he said he had been rescued from his collapsed apartment building in the nearby city of Antakya within hours of the quake on Monday. But after receiving basic first aid, he was released without getting proper treatment for his injuries.
The tragedy of death: “My sister died, my aunt died, and my daughter died,” said a Turkish man who lived on the edge of Antakya
″I buried (everyone that I lost), then I came here,” Canbulat said, “My sister died, my brother’s sister died, my aunt and her daughter died and the pregnant wife of my son died.”
A graveyard was being built on the outskirts of Antakya. There were bulldozers and backhoes working on the northeastern edge of the city as trucks and ambulances loaded with bodies arrived. Soldiers warned motorists against taking pictures on the busy road.
A person with Turkey’sMinistry of Religious Affairs who did not want to be identified said that 800 bodies were brought to the cemetery on its first day of operation. By midday on Saturday, he said, as many as 2,000 had been buried.
If people survive, it’s a miracle. He said that most of the people who come out now are dead.
Temperatures remained below freezing across the large region, and many people have no shelter. The Turkey government has provided millions of hot meals, but it’s still hard to reach people in need.
World Health Organization, Security Council, and zoning peace: the mismanagement of building certificates in the city of Hatay by earthquake victims
The president and his wife visited the injured victims of the earthquake in the hospital in Latakia, a base of support for the Syrian leader.
SANA said that the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, came to Syria on Saturday carrying 35 tons of medical equipment. He said another plane will bring 30 tons of medical equipment.
“We have solved the problems of 205,000 citizens of Hatay with zoning peace,” he said, using another name for the amnesties being used to facilitate construction practices that could leave buildings unable to withstand earthquakes.
Bugra Gokce, Istanbul city official, gave a breakdown of the tens of thousands of building certificates that were granted before the general election in the provinces struck by the earthquake. The official said that they included more than 40,000 certificates in Gaziantep province.
The amnesty meant that some builders had to pay a fine but their construction projects could go forward if they didn’t meet code restrictions, according to Turkish media reports.
In our country, the reason for illegal construction is due to the fact that the society does not live in healthy and safe houses. The group said the practice is used “for the sake of political gain,” and must be stopped.
Buildings are the only ones that are going to save lives in the aftermath of the earthquake in Turkey, according to Emergency Management Expert Forrest Lanning
Remarkable footage of the split olive grove has emerged from Turkey’s south-east Altınozu district, which borders Syria, showing a jagged, sandy-colored, canyon-like chasm. The cleavage reaches over 130 feet deep (40 meters).
Irfan Aksu, who lives in the neighborhood, told Turkish news agency Demioren News Agency that when the earthquake started last Monday it created “an incredible sound” where he lived.
He called on experts to look the area for future damage. “This is not a small town, there are 1000 houses, and 7000 thousand people live here,” he said. It would have happened in the middle of our town if it was a little closer.
Last Monday’s earthquake was the strongest to hit anywhere in the world since an 8.1 magnitude quake struck a region near the South Sandwich Islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean in 2021, though the remote location of that incident resulted in little damage.
The people who are going to have the largest effect on the rescue are your neighbors. Forrest Lanning told NPR that they are the ones that are right there when it happens. He’s in charge of earthquakes and volcano responses for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Spreading that awareness, and training people to respond when official rescuers aren’t able to do so, are among the measures emergency response experts say are essential to saving the most lives in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
The window of opportunity to save people trapped under collapsed buildings “will start to close pretty fast and by the time you get around day four or five, it’s done,” Lanning said.
It is possible for responders to find people in the rubble even if a bystander can’t, according to Natalie Simpson, the professor and chair of operations management at the University at Buffalo School of Management.
“It takes a long time at each building, to have to listen and carefully remove pieces of the building debris to get to people,” Lanning said. And with the scene in Turkey “there’s thousands and thousands of these buildings,” he added.
“What’s the best thing to do when you can’t get out of a place?” a comment on earthquakes in Turkey and Syria
The Community Emergency Response Team was designed to help local people when they need it. It’s a FEMA program that trains volunteers across all 50 states with basic disaster response skills.
It teaches people how to respond to an earthquake, where to get water, how to check on immobile neighbors, and how to search collapsed buildings.
There are factors, like types of injuries and how many search and rescue teams are on the scene, that contribute to how likely a trapped person is to survive. He mentioned that a trapped person can stay under a collapsed building for up to a week, if they are not injured.
Simpson, a member of the University at Buffalo, said she would like to see rescue crews and military immediately on the scene of disasters. That’s not always the case, and it wasn’t in Turkey and Syria, she said.
The Turkish government has come under criticism for its response. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has admitted “the first day we had some discomforts,” but had insisted by the second and third days “the situation got under control.”
“The single, biggest failure point in emergency response is failure to pick up on the fact that this is an emergency,” Simpson said. The instinct is to wait.
“With emergencies, all of them, including the aftermath of an earthquake, you’re not in Kansas anymore,” she said. The traps we fall into are “Oh gosh, what’s the best thing to do at this moment?” and “Stop it with best.” It’s all good. Let’s move.
She said that the military is best equipped to operate in a disaster-impaired landscape and open airfields to get aid quickly in Turkey.
The Turkish government failed to immediately mobilize its military to help in the direct rescue efforts, or to establish those important field hospitals and airstrips according to analysis by Middle East Institute.
“There’s a very important lesson here: It’s never too early to activate your large-scale response when you’re not getting any information out of a region,” she said. I believe that that will make a huge impression on the decision makers in other places.
Lanning said this latest disaster hammers home how important it is for global communities in earthquake-prone areas to strengthen infrastructure to withstand a disaster like the one in Turkey and Syria.
“Many of the damage there is because of the type of construction and buildings, which is mostly concrete,” commented Lanning, who has worked for 15 years in earthquake-prone areas of the world.
Despite the fact that concrete buildings are not the best at earthquakes, this is still going on. He said that they are easy to build and can hide flaws.
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There will be lots of work to analyze this disaster and what went wrong in the following months and years. But it’s incredibly valuable work, Lanning said.