KAHRAMANMARAS (Turkey)― Rescuers pulled out children yesterday from the rubble of the Turkey-Syria earthquake as the toll approached 24,000 and a winter freeze compounded the suffering for nearly one million people estimated to be in urgent need of food.
The stench of death hung over Turkey’s eastern city of Kahramanmaras ― the epicentre of the first 7.8-magnitude tremor that upturned millions of lives in the pre-dawn hours of Monday.
It is located in a remote region filled with people already displaced by war.
The United Nations warned that at least 870,000 people were now in urgent need of hot meals across Turkey and Syria. In Syria alone, up to 5.3 million people may have been made homeless.
“That is a huge number and comes to a population already suffering mass displacement,” said Sivanka Dhanapala, the Syria representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
But miraculous rescues continued more than 100 hours after the first tremor tore apart roads and flattened hundreds of buildings while a winter storm raged over the region.
A pregnant woman named Zahide Kaya was pulled out of the rubble alive after 115 hours, in Nurdagi district of Gaziantep province, southeastern Turkey, according to Turkish state news agency Anadolu.
Her six-year-old daughter named Kubra was rescued from the ruins an hour earlier.
The mother was injured and taken to hospital, but there was no immediate word on her unborn child.
The UN’s rights chief called for an immediate ceasefire in Syria so aid could reach all victims of the earthquake.
Some four million people in the rebel-held northwest rely on humanitarian aid but there have been no aid deliveries from government-controlled areas in three weeks.
Only two aid convoys have reached the region this week from Turkey, where authorities are engaged in an even bigger quake relief operation of their own.
The UN security council will meet on Syria, possibly early next week.
In Turkey, Kurdish militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies, announced a temporary halt in fighting to ease recovery work.
The earthquake has changed the tenor of the entire Turkish presidential election campaign.
Five days of grief and anguish have been slowly building into rage at the poor quality of buildings and the Turkish government’s response in the face of the country’s most dire disaster in nearly a century.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan conceded for the first time yesterday that his government was not able to reach and help the victims “as quickly as we had desired”.
Police yesterday detained a contractor trying to flee the country after his building collapsed in the catastrophic quake.
One of the single biggest tragedies involved 24 Cypriot children between the ages of 11 and 14 who were in Turkey for a volleyball tournament when the quake swallowed their hotel.
Ten of their bodies were repatriated to their homeland in northern Cyprus.
Turkish media reported that at least 19 people in the group ― which included 15 accompanying adults ― have now been confirmed dead.
The United Nations World Food Programme appealed for US$77 million (RM333.6 million) to provide food rations and hot meals for 874,000 people affected by the deadly quake.
The number in need of aid “includes 284,000 newly displaced people in Syria and 590,000 people in Turkey, which includes 45,000 refugees and 545,000 internally displaced people”, it said.
Aid reaches rebel areas
“As this tragic event unfolds, people’s desperate plight must be addressed,” said International Committee of the Red Cross president Mirjana Spoljaric on a visit to quake-hit Aleppo in Syria.
The Syrian government said it had also approved the delivery of humanitarian aid to quake-hit areas outside its control.
A decade of civil war and Syrian-Russian aerial bombardment had already destroyed hospitals and prompted electricity and water shortages.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Security Council to authorise the opening of new cross-border humanitarian aid points between Turkey and Syria.
Turkey said it was working on opening two new routes into rebel-held parts of Syria.
The winter freeze has left thousands of people either spending nights in their cars or huddling around makeshift fires that have become ubiquitous across the quake-hit region.
‘Left to die’
Monday’s quake was the most powerful and deadliest since 33,000 people died in a 7.8-magnitude tremor in 1939.
Officials and medics said 20,213 people had died in Turkey and 3,553 in Syria. The confirmed total now stands at 23,766.
Anger has mounted over the Turkish government’s handling of the disaster.
“People who didn’t die from the earthquake were left to die in the cold,” Hakan Tanriverdi told AFP in Adiyaman province. ― AFP