The death toll from Monday’s devastating earthquakes and more than 300 aftershocks in southeast Turkey and northern Syria soard over 6,000 Tuesday, authorities said, as crews raced to try to find survivors in the rubble of thousands of collapsed buildings. The aftershocks, including a magnitude 5.7 temblor that hit Tuesday, made the searching itself dangerous.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that he was declaring a state of emergency for three months across 10 provinces in the earthquake zone, Turkish media reported. The country’s vice president, Fuat Oktay, told reporters 8,000 people had been pulled from under rubble. He said there were 20,000 people taking part in the rescue efforts.
Tens of thousands of people were injured in the two nations and an untold number left homeless in harsh winter conditions.
Nations from around the world began pouring aid materials into the region. Oktay said rescue teams from 14 countries were already in Turkey and teams from 70 more nations were expected as the day progressed.
The official responsible for properties belonging to the Roman Catholic Church across the Middle East said he would open all churches in northern Syria to people needing shelter after Monday’s devastating earthquakes.
The office of Rev. Francesco Patton said the properties would be able to shelter hundreds of people and provide medical care and food to thousands, The Associated Press reported.
The devastating earthquakes along the Turkish-Syrian border struck an area that was already home to millions of refugees battling desperate circumstances. The United Nations said it was trying to reach refugees affected by the first quake, which registered a whopping magnitude 7.8 on the Richter scale, though it stressed that its existing aid programs were woefully underfunded.
“We do not know the exact number of refugees impacted and we might not for some days, but we fear the number might be significant, given the epicenter of the quake was close to areas with high concentrations of refugees,” said Matthew Saltmarsh, spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR.
Turkey hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled their country’s civil war, almost half of them children. In the 10 Turkish provinces affected by the quake, more than 1.7 million of the 15 million inhabitants are Syrian refugees.
Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR’s representative in Turkey, said that in Kilis province, one in two people are Syrian refugees, while in Gaziantep, Sanliurfa and Hatay, the figure is one in four or five.
“These 10 regions are also hosting the largest refugee population in the world,” he said Tuesday.
Meanwhile within Syria, more than 6.8 million people were internally displaced before the quake, and nearly 60,000 Palestinian refugees were in quake-affected northern Syria.
Major cargo port in Turkey closed as earthquake sparks huge shipping container fire
A navy ship docked Tuesday at the southern Turkish port of Iskenderun to transport quake survivors in need of urgent medical care to another city nearby, The Associated Press reported, as thick black smoke rose from another part of the busy port.
Maritime intelligence news website Lloyd’s List said international logistics giant AP Moller Maersk had rerouted all of its vessels slated to sail into Iskenderun as firefighters were still battling a huge blaze Tuesday at one of the port’s cargo terminals. The fire erupted when one of Monday’s major earthquakes toppled stacked shipping containers at the terminal.
Maersk said some of its logistics and transport infrastructure in the region, including at the Iskernderun port, had sustained “severe structural damage,” forcing “a complete stop of all operations until further notice” at the Mediterranean Sea port.
“We will need to perform a change of destination for all bookings bound for the port or already on the water. We are currently planning to divert containers to nearby hubs within operational feasibility or hold at transhipment ports – including Port of Mersin [Turkey] and Port Said [Egypt],” Maersk said, according to the Reuters news agency.
“It’s not yet known how long recovery efforts will take and when the port can undergo a full inspection of the damage,” the shipper said.
“The earthquake has heavily impacted northwest Syria, where 4.1 million people, most of them women and children, were already relying on humanitarian assistance,” Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General told reporters, adding that “hospitals are already overwhelmed.”
The U.N. has more than 700 staff based in the earthquake-affected areas.
Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh told reporters on Monday that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had “assured us that the U.N. will do all that’s possible in helping Syria in this very difficult situation.”
“Turkey and Syria need all the help they can get,” said Mark Lowcock, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development and former U.N. relief chief. “The most vulnerable may be those in Syria in places not controlled by the government: help via Turkey may be needed for them, and diplomatic efforts are necessary to achieve that.”
International soccer player Christian Atsu rescued alive from rubble
Thirty-one-year-old professional soccer player Christain Atsu was pulled alive from under rubble, officials from his current team, Hatayspor, in Turkey, said Tuesday.
Atsu, who previously played in the Premier League for Everton and Newcastle United, joined Hatayspor in September and was selected for Ghana’s international team in 2019.
“Christian Atsu was pulled out injured. Our sporting director, Taner Savut, is unfortunately still under the rubble,” Hatayspor’s Vice President Mustafa Ozat said, according to the Reuters news agency.
World Health Organization says “race against time” to save survivors
The director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was “now a race against time” to rescue people trapped after yesterday’s earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.
“Every minute, every hour that passes, the chances of finding survivors alive diminishes,” Tedros said.
The WHO boss said that rescue efforts were hampered by continued aftershocks, damage to infrastructure, and severe winter conditions.
“We are especially concerned about areas where we do not yet have information. Damage mapping is ongoing, to understand where we need to focus our attention,” Tedros said.
He said the WHO was sending three charter flights to both Turkey and Syria with medical supplies, including surgical trauma kits.
“This is a moment when we must come together in solidarity, as one humanity, to save lives and alleviate the suffering of people who have already suffered so much,” Tedros said.