'We could hear their voices': Digging with bare hands for earthquake survivorsComments
Search teams and emergency aid from around the world poured into Turkey and Syria on Tuesday as rescuers working in freezing temperatures dug, sometimes with their bare hands, through the remains of buildings flattened by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. The death toll soared above 5,000 and was expected to rise further.
But with the damage spread over a wide area, the massive relief operation often struggled to reach devastated towns, and voices that had been crying out from the rubble fell silent.
“We could hear their voices, they were calling for help,” said Ali Silo, whose two relatives could not be saved in the Turkish town of Nurdag.
In the end, it was left to Silo, a Syrian who arrived from Hama a decade ago, and other residents to recover the bodies and those of two other victims. Monday’s quake caused death and destruction over hundreds of square kilometres in Turkey and neighbouring Syria, toppling thousands of buildings and heaping more misery on a region shaped by Syria’s 12-year civil war and refugee crisis.
Aftershocks then rattled tangled piles of metal and concrete, making the search efforts perilous, while freezing temperatures made them ever more urgent.
The scale of the suffering, and the accompanying rescue effort, were staggering.
More than 8,000 people have been pulled from the debris in Turkey alone, and some 380,000 have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels, according to Turkey's vice president.
Some huddled in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centres, while others spent the night outside in blankets gathering around fires.
Many took to social media to plead for assistance for loved ones believed to be trapped under the rubble -- and Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Interior Ministry officials as saying all calls were being "collected meticulously" and the information relayed to search teams.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said 13 million of the country’s 85 million residents were affected in some way -- and declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces in order to manage the response.
For the entire quake-hit area, that number could be as high as 23 million people, according to World Health Organization officials.
Rescue teams from nearly 30 countries around the world headed for Turkey or Syria in the hours after the earthquakes.
As promises of help flooded in, Turkey said it would only allow vehicles carrying aid to enter the worst-hit provinces of Kahramanmaras, Adiyaman and Hatay in order to speed the effort.
The United Nations said it was “exploring all avenues” to get supplies to rebel-held northwestern Syria, where millions live in extreme poverty and rely on humanitarian aid to survive.
On the ground, the help might come too late for many people.
Nurgul Atay told reporters she could hear her mother’s voice beneath the rubble of a collapsed building in the Turkish city of Antakya, the capital of Hatay province, but that her and others’ efforts to get into the ruins had been futile without any heavy equipment to help.
“If only we could lift the concrete slab we’d be able to reach her,” she said. “My mother is 70 years old, she won’t be able to withstand this for long.”
There are some incredible rescue stories as well.
In the northwestern Syrian town of Jinderis, a young girl called Nour was pulled alive from the wreckage of a collapsed building Monday.