HomeWorldHeartbreak and fighting as rescuers struggle to reach earthquake victims in Turkey

Heartbreak and fighting as rescuers struggle to reach earthquake victims in Turkey

By Huseyin Hayatsever and Ece Toksabay

ANTAKYA, Turkey (Reuters) – A day after a devastating earthquake tore through Turkey and northern Syria, rescuers were still in short supply in Antakya, forcing residents to search through the rubble, sometimes even without basic tools, in a desperate search for survivors.

Trying to find relatives, friends and neighbours, dead or alive, people in the southern Turkish city are begging for helmets, hammers, iron bars and strong ropes to lift the rubble while they wait for more help to arrive.

While countries have rushed to respond to Turkey’s call to send rescue teams to the affected areas, a host of problems stemming from freezing winter conditions, destroyed roads and a shortage of trucks and heavy machinery have hampered relief efforts. Help.

The lack of help has already sparked fights between residents and rescuers in Antakya, with people pleading with rescuers to save their loved ones. In the city’s Kavasli neighborhood, a 54-year-old woman named Gulumser was pulled alive from an 8-story building 32 hours after the quake.

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Another woman then yelled at rescuers: “My father was right behind that room she was in. Please save him.” The rescuers explained that they could not reach the room from the front and that they first needed an excavator to remove the wall.

Elsewhere, drone footage over the city showed a lone man on top of a collapsed building, punching the rubble as others surrounded him.

“I see people here complaining about the lack of rescue efforts, but maybe it’s because there are 10 cities affected by the earthquake and many, many rescue teams are needed,” an Istanbul rescuer told Reuters, asking not to be identified. .

“But we are doing our best, trying to save people.”

Turkish authorities say more than 12,000 search and rescue personnel are working in the affected areas and another 9,000 soldiers. President Tayyip Erdogan declared a state of emergency on Tuesday to bolster responses.

But a big challenge is the sheer scale of the disaster over a large area, which requires a large mobilization of manpower to help search for survivors. Little information has emerged from some places, raising concerns about the extent of the devastation that could yet be uncovered.

Turkish authorities say some 13.5 million people were affected in an area covering about 450 km (280 miles) from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east, and 300 km from Malatya in the north to Hatay in the south. Syrian authorities have reported deaths as far south as Hama, about 100 km from the epicenter.

“The area is huge. I haven’t seen anything like this before,” said Johannes Gust, a worker with Germany’s fire and rescue service, as he loaded equipment onto a truck at Turkey’s Adana airport.

Another challenge is reaching the affected areas by road, Jens Laerke, deputy spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told a UN briefing in Geneva.

“It’s a disaster zone, if I ever saw one. Of course, road access is a challenge. There is a shortage of trucks to transport international teams to the job site,” he said.

A senior official with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said reaching rural and remote areas of Syria was proving especially difficult.

“What is missing from the rescue effort at the moment is that there are certain types of machinery that would help to try to help people who are trapped in the rubble,” Xavier Castellanos Mosquera told Reuters in an interview.

The Turkish authorities have declared a state of emergency and are using Adana airport as a logistics base. The airport became so congested that, for example, a team from Taiwan’s fire service, consisting of 40 people and three search-and-rescue dogs, was stranded in Istanbul for hours on Tuesday waiting to take off.

Back in Antakya, in Hatay province, frustration was mounting.

“No help, no electricity, no phone, no food since the earthquake rescue team arrived this morning,” said a woman named Kubra. “There used to be a cliché in Turkey ‘Where is the State?’ We are living this cliché now.”

(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Ben Blanchard, Kate Holton, Maya Gebeily; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, William Maclean)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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