Ankara/Beirut, Feb 10 (EFE).- Against the odds, glimmers of hope continued to emerge from under the rubble as rescuers pulled several survivors out from under collapsed buildings in earthquake-devastated southeast Turkey and northwest Syria on Friday.
On the fifth day of search and rescue operations since the two major earthquakes struck, the death toll had risen to more than 22,000 people and tens of thousands more injured in the two countries.
Turkey’s fatalities now sit at over 19,400 with 77,000 people injured, disaster agency AFAD reported on Friday, although it is estimated that there are still thousands of people under the debris in the 10 most-affected provinces.
Monday’s shallow magnitude-7.7 and 7.6 earthquakes have been followed by more than 1,500 aftershocks, but they have not deterred search teams which, in freezing temperatures, were still finding and rescuing survivors on Friday.
In Hatay province, a family including toddler Sela Elbarazi, her mother, father, brother and uncle were all pulled alive from the rubble 96 hours after the quakes, state news outlet Anadolu reported on Friday.
A 4-year-old girl was also rescued in Hatay, as was 30-year-old engineer Hikmet Yigitbas after 101 hours, it added.
“I am so happy. I haven’t been sleeping for three days. I only took a nap for two hours. I was about to go home and have some rest. I was told a voice was heard, and I went back,” rescue team volunteer Mustafa Aydin said in a video posted by Anadolu that showed the moment Yigitbas was carried out from a mountain of concrete.
“He said ‘don’t leave without giving me a hug, brother.’ He’s going to visit me in Istanbul too,” Aydin added.
In Kahramanmaras province, a mother and her daughter were found alive after 92 hours and two sisters were rescued after 100 hours, and in Adiyaman province, rescuers recovered a relatively unscathed 17-year-old Gülsüm Yeşilkaya after 90 hours from 8 meters under the rubble of an apartment building.
More than 130,000 search and rescue personnel from Turkey and abroad are working in the country’s disaster areas, where over 6,400 buildings have been destroyed, according to AFAD.
Over 70 countries have sent assistance such as financial or medical aid, personnel and equipment to Turkey as of Friday, Anadolu said.
Turkish authorities have so far evacuated over 150,000 people from southeastern Turkey, where hundreds of thousands of the 13.4 million residents of the 10 provinces affected by the earthquake have been left homeless.
National carrier Turkish Airlines set up an air bridge between the quake-hit region and western areas and plans to evacuate nearly 27,000 people on Friday alone, bringing the total number of evacuees to 125,057 on Turkish Airlines flights, a spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) reported Friday that it has evacuated some 30,300 people.
The Turkish Navy will also make five military vessels available to transport quake victims from coastal areas where all habitable buildings have been destroyed.
Evacuees will be temporarily housed in hotels in tourist cities on Turkey’s southern coast, such as Antalya. State institution facilities like schools and sports centers will also be used to accommodate homeless earthquake victims.
SYRIA’S ASSAD RE-APPEARS, AID ARRIVES
Across the border in Syria, president Bashar al-Assad visited the northwestern province of Aleppo, one of the hardest hit by the earthquakes, in his first public appearance since the initial earthquake registered early Monday morning.
In his first public remarks since the disaster, he accused the West of ignoring the “human” disaster unfolding in Syria because of “political” considerations, amid a debate on the humanitarian effects of international sanctions against Damascus.
During his visit to Aleppo, he accused Western countries of “prioritizing politics over the humanitarian situation (…) the human condition does not exist in the West,” al-Assad said, according to state outlet SANA, which he said was guilty of plundering, theft and killings for 600 years of colonialism.
This was the first time he has spoken in public since the disaster, which has left at least 3,384 dead and 5,245 wounded throughout the country. Casualties in Syria are expected to increase significantly as rescue work continues.
At least 2,000 of the deaths were reported by the White Helmets civil defense force, which works in opposition-controlled areas, as of Friday morning. It also reported over 2,950 people injured, and warned that there were “hundreds of families” still under collapsed structures.
Meanwhile, a second United Nations convoy in two days has arrived with emergency aid for the victims in northwestern Syria, the country’s worst affected region.
The trucks have crossed the Turkish-Syrian border at Bab al-Hawa, the only open crossing in the area – the rest have been closed amid Syria’s 12-year-old civil war – on a road that was badly damaged by the earthquakes, the International Organization for Migration confirmed from Geneva.
Bab al-Hawa is the only direct route for supplies to enter opposition-held areas of Idlib and Aleppo provinces, which are home to more than 4 million people who were already dependent on humanitarian aid before the quake catastrophe and nearly 3 million internally displaced persons.
In a statement, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said: “People are facing nightmare on top of nightmare. The earthquake struck as the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria was already worsening, with needs at their highest level since the conflict began,” adding that it was “one of the biggest natural disasters in our times.”
The catastrophe is now this century’s seventh most deadly natural disaster, ahead of Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami. EFE