Turkey Earthquake: sixth most deadly natural disaster this century

KAHRAMANMARAS/ANTAKYA, Turkey, Feb 13 (Reuters) – Rescuers in Turkey pulled several children alive from collapsed buildings on Monday, a week after the country’s worst earthquake in modern history, but hopes of many more survivors were fading and criticism of the authorities grew.

In one city, rescuers were digging a tunnel to reach a grandmother, mother and daughter, all from one family, who appeared to have survived the 7.8 magnitude Feb. 6 quake and aftershock that have killed more than 37,000 in Turkey and Syria.

But others were bracing for the inevitable scaling down of operations as low temperatures reduced the already slim chances of survival with some Polish rescuers announcing they would leave on Wednesday.

In the shattered Syrian city of Aleppo, U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said the rescue phase was “coming to a close”, with the focus switching to shelter, food and schooling.

In a sign of hope, a 13-year-old was pulled out alive after spending 182 hours under the rubble of a collapsed building in Turkey’s southern Hatay province on Monday, his head braced, and covered for warmth, before he was moved into an ambulance.

A young girl named Miray was recovered alive in the southeastern Turkish city of Adiyaman, officials said, while state broadcaster TRT Haber said a 10-year-old girl was rescued in the southern Turkish province of Kahramanmaras.

At least two other children and three adults were also reported to have been rescued.

In one dramatic rescue attempt in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, rescuers said they had contact with a grandmother, mother and baby trapped in a room in the remains of three-storey building. Rescuers were digging a second tunnel to reach them, after a first route was blocked.

“I have a very strong feeling we are going to get them,” said Burcu Baldauf, head of the Turkish voluntary healthcare team. “It’s already a miracle. After seven days, they are there with no water, no food and in good condition.”

On the same street, emergency workers covered a body in a black bag. “This is your brother,” one grieving woman said, with another wailing. “No, no.”

The Turkish toll now exceeds the 31,643 killed in a quake in 1939, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority said, making it the worst quake in Turkey’s modern history.

The total death toll in Syria, a nation ravaged by more than a decade of civil war, has reached 5,714, including those who died in a rebel enclave and government-held areas.

It is the sixth most deadly natural disaster this century, behind the 2005 tremor that killed at least 73,000 in Pakistan. Turkey faces a bill of up to $84.1 billion, a business group said.

“People are not dead because of the earthquake, they are dead because of precautions that weren’t taken earlier,” said Said Qudsi, who travelled quake-hit Kahramanmaras from Istanbul and buried his uncle, aunt and their two sons, while their two daughters were still missing.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who faces an election scheduled for June that is expected to be the toughest of his two decades in power, acknowledged problems in the initial response but said the situation was now under control.

Dozens of residents and overwhelmed first responders who spoke to Reuters expressed bewilderment at a lack of water, food, medicine, body bags and cranes in the disaster zone, with many criticising an overly slow and ru 2centralised response by Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD).

“God knows what will happen next,” said Ismail Yuvarlak, 42. He said he was living in a tent after his house in Kahramanmaras had been condemned by authorities who in his words had left his family to figure things out on their own.

The International Monetary Fund called for an international effort to help Syria, where the rebel-held northwest has received little aid.

Only one crossing from Turkey into Syria is now open for U.N. aid, although the United Nations says it hopes to open two more.

Aid from government-held regions to areas controlled by hardline opposition groups has been held up. A source from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an Islamist group which controls much of the region, told Reuters the group would not let in shipments from government-held areas and aid would come from Turkey.

There was growing frustration among aid workers and civilians in Syria’s rebel-held areas.

“We called from the early days of the catastrophe on the U.N. to intervene immediately,” the head of the Turkey-backed opposition coalition Salem al Muslet said. “The U.N. wants to exonerate itself from letting down the liberated areas.”

Additional reporting by Umit Bektas, Maya Gebeily, Daren Butler, Yesim Dikmen, Ece Toksabay, Timour Azhari, Suleiman al-Khalidi, Mehmet Caliskan, Alan Charlish and Ghaida Ghantous; Writing by Stephen Coates, Michael Georgy and Conor Humphries; Editing by Jane Merriman, Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel and Christina Fincher

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