By Agencies – published by CNA and TV Channel 7
THE Thai Foreign Ministry said this evening (Feb. 8) that a Thai woman is among the 11,200 people who have died in the devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday.
Mrs. Kanchana Phatrachoke, the ministry’s spokesperson, said the Thai embassy in Ankara had informed them that the Thai woman was found in the rubble of a building in the Turkish city of Iskenderun.
The embassy had notified the deceased woman’s family and is urgently liasing with the Turkish authorities to take further action.
Rescuers were still pulling survivors from the rubble of the earthquake that killed more than 11,200 people in Turkey and Syria, even as the window for rescues narrowed.
For two days and nights since the 7.8-magnitude quake, thousands of searchers have worked in freezing temperatures to find those still alive under flattened buildings on either side of the border.
Turkish Red Crescent chief Kerem Kinik had warned that the first 72 hours were critical in search and rescue efforts but pointed to complications of “severe weather conditions”.
Emergency workers on Wednesday saved some children found under a collapsed building in the hard-hit Turkish province of Hatay, where whole stretches of towns have been levelled.
“All of a sudden we heard voices and thanks to the excavator … immediately we heard the voices of three people at the same time,” said rescuer Alperen Cetinkaya.
“We are expecting more of them … the chances of getting people out of here alive are very high,” he added.
Officials and medics said 8,574 people had died in Turkey and 2,662 in Syria from Monday’s tremor, bringing the total to 11,236 – but that could yet double if the worst fears of experts are realised.
Heartrending scenes of a newborn plucked alive from the rubble and a broken father clutching his dead daughter’s hand have laid bare the human cost of violent earthquakes.
The World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that time is running out for the thousands injured and those still feared trapped.
For Mesut Hancer – a resident of Turkish city Kahramanmaras, near the epicentre – it is already too late.
He sat on the freezing rubble, too grief-stricken to speak, refusing to let go of his 15-year-old daughter Irmak’s hand as her body lay lifeless among the slabs of concrete and strands of twisted rebar.
“People dying every second”
Due to the scale of the damage and the lack of help coming to certain areas, survivors said they felt alone in responding to the disaster.
“Even the buildings that haven’t collapsed were severely damaged. There are now more people under the rubble than those above it,” a resident named Hassan, who did not provide his full name, said in the rebel-held town of Jindayris.
“There are around 400 to 500 people trapped under each collapsed building, with only 10 people trying to pull them out. And there is no machinery,” he added.
The White Helmets leading efforts to rescue people buried under rubble in rebel-held areas of Syria have appealed for international help in their “race against time”.
They have been toiling since the quake to pull survivors out from under the debris of dozens of flattened buildings in northwestern areas of war-torn Syria that remain outside the government’s control.
“International rescue teams must come into our region,” said Mohammed Shibli, a spokesperson for the group known formally as the Syria Civil Defence.
“People are dying every second; we are in a race against time,” he told AFP from neighbouring Türkiye.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan visited southern Turkey on Wednesday to see the destruction first-hand, as anger grew among local people over what they said was a slow government response to the rescue and relief effort.
Erdogan acknowledged some problems with Turkey’s initial response to the earthquake but said normal operations have resumed.
Speaking to reporters in the Kahramanmaras province near the epicentre, with constant ambulance sirens in the background, Erdogan said there had been problems with roads and airports but that everything would get better by the day.
“On the first day we experienced some issues but then on the second day and today the situation is under control,” he said.
The government aims to build housing within one year for those left without a home in the 10 provinces affected, he added.
Erdogan, who has declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces and sent in troops to help, faces an election in May that was already set to be the toughest in his two decades of power.
The disaster poses a new challenge to him as any perception that the government is failing to address the disaster properly could hurt Erdogan’s prospects in the vote. But analysts say that on the other hand, he could rally national support around the crisis response and strengthen his position.
Syria appeals to EU for help
The issue of aid to Syria was a delicate one, and the sanctioned government in Damascus made an official plea to the EU for help, the bloc’s commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic said.
A decade of civil war and Syrian-Russian aerial bombardment had already destroyed hospitals, collapsed the economy and prompted electricity, fuel and water shortages.
The European Commission is “encouraging” EU member countries to respond to Syria’s request for medical supplies and food, while monitoring to ensure that any aid “is not diverted” by President Bashar al-Assad’s government, Lenarcic noted.
In parts of quake-hit Turkey, shops were closed, there was no heat because gas lines had been cut to avoid explosions, and finding petrol was tough.
Some families of the missing were trying to stay hopeful for a rescue but were struggling.
“My nephew, my sister-in-law and my sister-in-law’s sister are in the ruins. They are trapped under the ruins and there is no sign of life,” said Semire Coban, kindergarten teacher, in Turkey’s Hatay.
“We can’t reach them. We are trying to talk to them, but they are not responding … We are waiting for help. It has been 48 hours now,” she said.
Dozens of nations including the United States, China and the Gulf States have pledged to help, and search teams as well as relief supplies have already arrived.
Up to 23 million people affected
A winter storm has compounded the misery by rendering many roads – some of them damaged by the quake – almost impassable, resulting in traffic jams that stretch for kilometres in some regions.
The World Health Organization has warned that up to 23 million people could be affected by the massive earthquake and urged nations to rush help to the disaster zone.
The European Union was swift to dispatch rescue teams to Turkey after the massive earthquake struck the country on Monday close to the border with Syria.
But it initially offered only minimal assistance to Syria through existing humanitarian programmes, because of EU sanctions imposed since 2011 on Assad’s government over its brutal crackdown on protesters that spiralled into a civil war.
The Turkey-Syria border is one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
Monday’s earthquake was the largest Turkey has seen since 1939, when 33,000 people died in the eastern Erzincan province.
In 1999, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake killed more than 17,000.
Experts have long warned that a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.
Top: Muhammet Ruzgar, five, is carried out by rescuers from the site of a damaged building, following an earthquake in Hatay, Turkey on Feb. 7, 2023. Photo: Reuters/Umit Bektas and published by CNA
First insert: A woman reacts as she stands in front of a damaged building, following an earthquake in Gaziantep, Turkey, on Feb. 7, 2023. Photo: Reuters/Dilara Senkaya and published by CNA
Second insert: Rescue workers search for survivors in the town of Jableh in northwestern Syria. Photo: AFP and published by CNA
Third insert: Firefighters search for people in the rubble of a destroyed building, in Gaziantep, southeastern Turkey on Feb. 8, 2023. Photo: AP/Kamran Jebreili and published by CNA
Fifth insert: A man standing amid rubble looks at the damage following an earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, on Feb. 7, 2023. Photo: Reuters/Umit Bektas and published by CNA
Front Page: Rescuers search for survivors under the rubble following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on Feb. 6, 2023. Photo: Reuters/Sertac Kayar and published by CNA
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