Turkey-Syria earthquake death toll hits 33,000; millions in need of aid

The final number may double, the United Nations warn, as tens of thousands of rescue workers scour flattened neighbourhoods in search of survivors

By AFP

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Photo:AFP
Photo:AFP

Published: Sun 12 Feb 2023, 7:14 AM

Last updated: Sun 12 Feb 2023, 6:22 PM

The death toll from a catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria climbed to 33,000 on Sunday, with the United Nations warning that the final number may double.

Officials and medics said 29,605 people had died in Turkey and 3,574 in Syria from Monday's 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the confirmed total to 33,179.


Rescuers pulled a seven-month-old baby and a teenage girl from the rubble on Sunday, nearly a week after an earthquake devastated both countries.

Tens of thousands of rescue workers are scouring flattened neighbourhoods despite freezing weather that has deepened the misery of millions now in desperate need of aid.


Security concerns led some aid operations to be suspended, and dozens of people have been arrested for looting or trying to defraud victims in the aftermath of the quake in Turkey, according to state media.

But miraculous tales of survival still emerged from amid the destruction and despair.

"Is the world there?" asked 70-year-old Menekse Tabak as she was pulled from the rubble in the southern city of Kahramanmaras -- the epicentre of Monday's 7.8-magnitude tremor -- to applause and cries praising God, according to a video on state broadcaster TRT Haber.

A seven-month-old baby named Hamza was also rescued in Hatay more than 140 hours after the quake, while Esma Sultan, 13, was saved in Gaziantep, state media reported.

In southern Turkey, families were racing against time to find their missing relatives' bodies.

"We hear (the authorities) will no longer keep the bodies waiting after a certain period of time, they say they will take them and bury them," Tuba Yolcu said in Kahramanmaras.

Another family clutched each other in grief at a cotton field transformed into a cemetery, with a seemingly endless stream of bodies arriving for swift burial.

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The United Nations has warned that at least 870,000 people urgently need hot meals across Turkey and Syria. In Syria alone, up to 5.3 million people may have been made homeless.

Almost 26 million people have been affected by the earthquake, the World Health Organization (WHO) said as it launched a flash appeal on Saturday for $42.8 million to cope with immediate health needs.

It warned that dozens of hospitals had been damaged.

Turkey's disaster agency said more than 32,000 people from Turkish organisations are working on search-and-rescue efforts. There are also 8,294 international rescuers.

In Turkey's gourmet capital Gaziantep city, restaurants are working hard among tens of thousands of volunteers to help feed families.

"We want to help," said Burhan Cagdas, owner of a local diner.

"Our co-workers are in a bad situation. Their families are victims and their houses are destroyed," he said.

Cagdas' own family has been sleeping in cars since Monday in a city where at least 2,000 were killed and tens of thousands been forced out of unsafe homes.

Their Imam Cagdas restaurant is renowned for Alinazik aubergine and meat stew and they have served up to 4,000 free meals a day outdoors since Monday.

Clashes have also been reported and the UN rights office on Friday urged all actors in the affected area -- where Kurdish militants and Syrian rebels operate -- to allow humanitarian access.

Austrian soldiers and German rescue workers called off their searches for several hours on Saturday in southern Hatay, citing a difficult security situation amid firing between local groups.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, considered a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies, has announced a temporary halt in fighting to ease recovery work.

A border crossing between Armenia and Turkey also opened for the first time in 35 years on Saturday to allow five trucks carrying food and water into the quake-hit region.

Aid has been slow to arrive in Syria, where years of conflict have ravaged the healthcare system and parts of the country remain under the control of rebels.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus took a flight full of emergency medical equipment into the quake-stricken city of Aleppo on Saturday.

Tedros toured damaged areas of the city and met two children who lost their parents in the earthquake.

"There are no words to express the pain they are going through," he tweeted.

Damascus said it had approved the delivery of humanitarian assistance to quake-hit areas outside its control in Idlib province and a convoy was expected to leave on Sunday. The delivery was later postponed without explanation.

In the Syrian capital, the transport ministry said 57 aid planes had landed in the country this week.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged the Security Council to authorise the opening of new cross-border aid points between Turkey and Syria. The council will meet to discuss Syria, possibly early next week.

Turkey said it was working on opening two new routes into rebel-held parts of Syria.

Five days of grief and anguish have been slowly building into rage at the poor quality of buildings as well as the government's response to Turkey's worst disaster in nearly a century.

Officials say 12,141 buildings were either destroyed or seriously damaged in the earthquake.

Turkish police on Saturday reportedly detained 12 people, including contractors, over collapsed buildings in the southeastern provinces of Gaziantep and Sanliurfa.

Officials and medics said 24,617 people had died in Turkey and 3,574 in Syria. The confirmed total now stands at 28,191.

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