A woman mourns near by her relatives's dead body during a funeral in the aftermath of a major earthquake in Islahiye district of Gaziantep city, Turkey, 11 February 2023. EFE/EPA/NECATI SAVAS

Quake survivors rescued after 128 hours as officials warn of new crisis

Ankara, Feb 11 (EFE).- Rescue teams on Saturday continued to find survivors under the rubble more than 128 hours after the twin earthquakes that hit southeast Turkey and northwest Syria, as officials and doctors again voiced concerns over potential for a public health disaster.

A woman mourns near by her relatives’s dead body during a funeral in the aftermath of a major earthquake in Islahiye district of Gaziantep city, Turkey, 11 February 2023. EFE/EPA/NECATI SAVAS


In Hatay province, a two month old baby was pulled from the rubble alive on Saturday afternoon 128 hours after the first earthquake shook 10 provinces in the country’s southeast on Monday, the state Anadolu news agency reported.

A 13-year-old boy was also rescued from the debris of a building in Hatay after also spending 128 hours under the rubble, the agency said.

In Diyarbakir, 55-year-old Masallah Çiçek was rescued alive early Saturday morning from the ruins of her apartment, according to Anadolu.

Another rescue was broadcast live by Turkish television channels in the early morning as a 70-year-old woman was freed alive from under a collapsed building in Kahramanmaras province, also 122 hours after the earthquake.

The death toll now stands at 21,043 in Turkey, with more than 80,000 injured, according to the latest data from the country’s disaster agency AFAD.

Monday’s 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes were centered in Kahramanmaras and affected more than 13 million people in 10 provinces, an area larger than Portugal. It is feared that tens of thousands of victims are still under the rubble.

Despite the fact that more than 160,000 rescuers and emergency personnel work in the area, its enormous size, the level of destruction, the more than 1,800 aftershocks and freezing temperatures with destroyed infrastructure all complicate the situation.

In some areas rescue efforts have stopped and teams have begun to remove rubble, but other places have not seen much – or any – help at all.

Many of the roads leading to rural villages in the region are closed due to snowfall and the poor state of many mountain roads even before the earthquake complicates communications, Hurriyet newspaper reported Saturday.

Yilmaz Kurt, an emergency medical specialist who set up a field hospital in the Kahramanmaras village of Alçiçek, told EFE that while state and volunteer aid has reached cities, almost nothing has reached thousands of towns where people are struggling to survive.

He believes that while the death toll in smaller towns may be lower because traditional buildings held up better, the situation among survivors is getting worse by the day.

“As time goes by, health conditions threaten people,” he said.

In many localities, houses have become uninhabitable and alternatives such as tents have not arrived, and the lack of water and food also affects farm animals.

Given the lack of medicines, he said many villagers have also started taking medicines for animals, which is a problem.

Onder Isleyen, a member of the leadership of a small Turkish left-wing party, told EFE by telephone from the district of Defne, Hatay province, that he fears an epidemic could soon occur as there are no shops, no cleaning materials, no toilets – all a danger to public health.

According to specialists, portable toilets are a priority need, there is a large shortage of hygiene supplies and medicines, there is little water and tens of thousands of people are living out in the open in sub-zero temperatures.

Despite the abundance of volunteers in Hatay, there is no organization, equipment or materials, he said, and the rescue work is concentrated in main streets and the central areas.

In secondary streets, the works diminish and this is where people, whose relatives are in the rubble, beg for cranes, equipment specialists and excavators, he said.

“No one has yet gone to hundreds or thousands of villages,” he also warned.

World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Turkey, Batyr Berdyklychev, told Hurriyet that “the scale of the disaster and its consequences are enormous.”

“Reconstruction of hospitals and health facilities is a priority. Problems in the supply of clean water can increase the risk of disease and vaccine-preventable diseases,” he stressed.

In the midst of despair there are also security problems. The Turkish media have reported the arrest of about 20 looters and said there were people who blocked roads to steal the contents of the trucks carrying aid.

Some citizens of the area say that because the shops are closed and some foods are in short supply, they have no alternative but to steal it.


Across the border in Syria, the latest death toll was at least 3,553, although updates have been sparse and casualties are expected to rise.

At least 2,166 of the deaths were reported by the White Helmets civil defense force, which works in opposition-controlled areas, as of Friday. It also reported over 2,950 people injured.

The White Helmets said that the rescue operation in rebel-held areas had come to an end after no survivors had been pulled from the rubble since Thursday 9 February. 

The director-general of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus arrived in Aleppo, in northeastern Syria, on Saturday morning to assess the damage in one of the most affected areas.

“We brought in about 35 to 37 tons of medical and health requirements, including antibiotics and biomedical equipment for conducting small operations in the hospitals, asserting that the shipment will enable the health workers to provide the required health services to the affected,” he told reporters, according to the Sana news agency.

Tedros added that another plane will arrive in Syria in the following days loaded with 30 tons of medical equipment.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad approved the delivery of humanitarian aid to opposition-held areas in the northwest of the country, closest to the tremor epicenters.

Aid distribution will be supervised by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent with help from the United Nations, according to a government statement.

A total of 14 trucks have crossed into opposition-held areas at the sole crossing from Turkey, Bab al-Hawa, the UN migration agency IOM confirmed Friday.

Deliveries are slowed by damaged roads and lack of customs staff, and need to be stepped up from government-controlled areas into the northwest opposition-held zones where 90 percent of people depend on humanitarian assistance, World Food Program Regional Director in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Eastern Europe, Corinna Fleischer, said.

The UN refugee agency said that some 5.3 million people in Syria may have been left homeless by the disaster.

The catastrophe is now this century’s seventh most deadly natural disaster, ahead of Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami. EFE