Turkey-Syria Earthquake: Race to Save Final Victims Still Buried Alive

A husband who was buried alive beside his dead wife was rescued in Turkey after 48 hours of unimaginable horror, as the death toll from Monday’s quake across the country and its neighbour Syria rose past 11,000.

Pictures from the scene of the rescue in the Turkish province of Hatay showed the man wedged between a fallen concrete slab, the floor, and his wife’s lifeless body. As light shone into the confines of the ruin, the man – named as Abdulalim Muaini – is shown squinting back at them and reaching out a hand. Mr Muaini was then carried out of the ruined building, along with the bodies of his wife and two daughters, who were also killed. They placed him on the floor to give him medical treatment, feet away from where the bodies of his wife Esra, and daughters Mahsen and Besira, lay wrapped in blankets.

Officials and medics said 9,057 people had died in Turkey and 2,662 in Syria from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the total to 11,719 – making it the deadliest seismic event in more than a decade.

Officials say the death toll could double if the worst fears of experts are realised, which would bring the number of fatalities close to the magnitude 9 quake off the coast of Japan that killed nearly 20,000 in 2011.

Meanwhile, rescuers in Turkey and Syria continued their search for survivors trapped inside the ruins of their homes brought down by the quake. Against all the odds, search teams were still pulling people from the rubble on Wednesday more than 48 hours after the initial 7.8-magnitude quake. This included an entire Syrian family who were found alive after days trapped in freezing darkness.

A young Syrian boy living in the Iskenderun district of Hatay, Turkey filmed himself from inside a collapsed building where he is trapped. He tells the camera that he is uncertain if he will make it out alive. ‘I don’t know if I will live or die. I don’t know how to describe this feeling of someone going through this under the rubble,’ the young boy said, as other voices can be heard next to him – likely his family or others living in the building in Turkey. ‘As you can see I am under the debris. There are more than two or four families and our neighbours. I don’t know how to describe it. It shakes.’ ‘Friends, we are stuck under the earthquake. Mother! Are you okay? Mother! Tell me you hid somewhere. Please help!’ he added before giving his home address. The boy, named by Al Jazeera as Firat Yayla – who has a YouTube channel called Charmquell – later posted on Instagram that he had been saved. However, he said his mother was still underneath the concrete.

Miraculous videos have emerged showing children being found by rescue teams across the devastated region, and pulled from wrecks of buildings covered in dust, but alive. On Tuesday, a newborn baby was saved – still attached to her dead mother.

Rescuers also pulled a three-year-old boy, Arif Kaan, from beneath the rubble of a collapsed apartment building in Kahramanmaras, a city near the epicenter. With the boy’s lower body trapped under slabs of concrete and twisted steel, emergency crews lay a blanket over his torso to protect him from below-freezing temperatures as they carefully cut the debris away from him, mindful of the possibility of triggering another collapse. The boy’s father, Ertugrul Kisi, who himself had been rescued earlier, sobbed as his son was pulled free and loaded into an ambulance.

A few hours later, rescuers pulled ten-year-old Betul Edis from the rubble of her home in the city of Adiyaman. Amid applause from onlookers, her grandfather kissed her and spoke softly to her as she was loaded on an ambulance.

However, such scenes are bittersweet. Scores more are thought to be still alive underneath huge piles of concrete and twisted metal, and the World Health Organisation has warned that time is running out for the thousands injured and those still feared trapped.

‘Generally, earthquakes do not kill people, collapsing infrastructure kills people,’ said Professor Kelman, who has published research on quake rescue responses. The most pressing factor is getting medical attention to people crushed under collapsed buildings before ‘their bodies fail’ or they bleed out, he said.

Weather is also a key factor, and ‘it is completely against us’ in Turkey and Syria, he told AFP news agency. The quake-hit regions have suffered through freezing temperatures as well as rain and snow since Monday. ‘This very sadly means that hypothermia is possible, and people are probably unfortunately perishing due to the weather,’ Kelman said.

Those who do manage to survive the cold and their injuries still need food and water. Without water, many people ‘will start dying at the three, four, five-day mark,’ he said.

Hopes for more rescues are dimming as time goes on, with frigid temperatures and ongoing aftershocks complicating rescue efforts.

‘We are in the 55th hour. These are the hours when the rescue efforts are the most intense and sensitive,’ Murat Kurum, Turkey’s minister of environment and urbanisation, said at the HQ of Turkey’s AFAD disaster agency.

For Mesut Hancer – a resident of Turkish city Kahramanmaras, near the epicentre – it is already too late. He was pictured sitting on the freezing rubble, too grief-stricken to speak, refusing to let go of his 15-year-old daughter Irmak’s hand as her body lay lifeless, crushed under the slabs of concrete and strands of twisted iron.

A winter storm has compounded the misery by rendering many roads – some of them damaged by the quake – almost impassable, resulting in traffic jams that stretch for miles in some regions. It is feared survivors could freeze.

Many survivors have not yet returned to their homes out of fear they could collapse at any moment, with people choosing instead to sleep in their cars.

On Tuesday, Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency in ten southeastern provinces. Amid calls for the government to send more help to the disaster zone Erdogan gave an update on the casualty figures during a visit to Kahramanmaras, a southern Turkish city at the epicentre of the initial quake.

Television images showed him hugging a weeping, elderly woman and walking through a large crowd towards a Red Crescent humanitarian relief tent.

Facing a tough May 14 re-election, Erdogan pledged to rebuild the damaged regions within a year. ‘Initially there were issues at airports and on the roads, but today things are getting easier and tomorrow it will be easier still,’ he said in televised remarks.

As the rescue effort continues, signs that the bereaved were preparing to bury their dead were also appearing across the region. In Gaziantep,Turkey, AFP correspondents reported seeing green metal coffins lined up in rows of ten at a time, under a shelter at the city’s main cemetery. In Syria’s Aleppo province, aerial images showed mass graves being dug.

Even for survivors, the future seems bleak.

The WHO has warned that up to 23 million people could be affected by the massive earthquake and urged nations to rush help to the disaster zone. Syrian state media said 300,000 people have been displaced in the country. Many on both sides of the borders have taken refuge from relentless aftershocks, cold, rain and snow in mosques, schools, cars and even bus shelters – some burning debris to stay alive in the freezing temperatures.

Meanwhile, frustration is growing that help has been slow to arrive. In nearby Gaziantep, shops are closed, there is no heat because gas lines have been cut to avoid explosions, and finding petrol is tough.

Sixty-one-year-old resident Celal Deniz said the police had to intervene when impatient crowds waiting for rescue teams ‘revolted’.

About 100 others wrapped in blankets slept in the lounge of an airport terminal normally used to welcome Turkish politicians and celebrities.

Across the border in northern Syria, a decade of civil war and Syrian-Russian aerial bombardment had already destroyed hospitals, collapsed the economy and prompted electricity, fuel and water shortages.

The White Helmets, the rescue group based in Syria that is leading efforts to rescue people buried under rubble in rebel-held areas, appealed for international help in their ‘race against time’.


The Mail

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