Death toll from the earthquake reaches 33,000; Turkey starts legal action

A Turkish flag is seen on a pole in front of a collapsed building, as rescue continues in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Kahramanmaras, Turkey February 12, 2023. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

On Sunday, nearly a week after one of the biggest earthquakes to strike Turkey and Syria, rescuers rescued more survivors from the rubble as Turkish officials struggled to preserve order across the disaster zone and initiated legal action over building collapses.

With the likelihood of finding additional survivors diminishing, the death toll from Monday's earthquake and severe aftershocks in both countries surpassed 33,000 and appeared to continue rising. It was Turkey's deadliest earthquake since 1939.

Sunday, business owners in a core neighbourhood of one of the hardest-hit cities in southern Turkey, Antakya, evacuated their stores to prevent looters from stealing products.

Residents and humanitarian workers from neighbouring cities reported deteriorating security, with widespread reports of robberies of shops and collapsed homes.

President Tayyip Erdogan has stated that the government will deal firmly with looters as he prepares for a national election expected to be the most difficult of his two decades in power. Erdogan is facing questions about his response to the earthquake as he prepares for what is expected to be the most difficult election of his two decades in power.

In Syria, the calamity struck hardest in the rebel-held northwest, forcing many people who had already been displaced multiple times by a decade-long civil war back onto the streets. The region has received less aid than areas under government control.

United Nations relief head Martin Griffiths tweeted from the Turkey-Syria border, where just one passage is accessible for U.N. aid shipments, "We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria,"

"They rightly feel abandoned," Griffiths said, adding that he was committed to resolving the issue expeditiously.

Washington demanded that the Syrian government and all other parties in the nation immediately give humanitarian access to everyone in need.

More than six days after the earthquake, rescuers discovered a few survivors clinging to life in the rubble of homes that had become tombs for tens of thousands.

Malik Milandi, a 54-year-old Syrian, was rescued after surviving 156 hours amid Antakya's rubble by a team of Chinese rescuers and Turkish firemen.

The few remaining buildings had to crumble or crack facades on the major road leading into the city. Rescuers occasionally called for stillness to search for indications of life beneath the rubble.

On Sunday, a father and daughter, a toddler, and a 10-year-old girl were among the survivors rescued from the rubble of collapsed buildings. Still, such occurrences became increasingly rare as the death toll rose inexorably.

At a funeral near Reyhanli, veiled women wept and pounded their chests as coffined, blanket-wrapped, and open-coffined bodies were unloaded from vans.

Some residents attempted to salvage anything they could from the devastation.

In Elbistan, the epicentre of an aftershock almost as violent as Monday's first 7.8 magnitude earthquake, Mustafa Bahcivan, a 32-year-old mobile store owner, said he had been in town nearly every day since then. On Sunday, he combed through the rubble in search of any of his still intact and marketable phones.

"This street used to be one of the busiest. Now it's gone totally, "he added.

Detention orders

In the aftermath of the quake, the importance of building quality in a country with multiple seismic fault lines became evident.

According to Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay, 131 people have been identified as being responsible for the collapse of some of the tens of thousands of buildings in the ten affected regions.

He stated, "We will follow this up meticulously until the necessary judicial process is concluded, especially for buildings that suffered heavy damage and buildings that caused deaths and injuries,"

The earthquake occurred as Erdogan prepared for presidential and parliamentary elections in June. Even before the accident, his popularity declined due to rising prices and a depreciating Turkish currency.

Some quake victims and opposition lawmakers have accused the government of delayed and inadequate first relief efforts, and some have questioned why the army, which played a crucial role in the aftermath of the 1999 earthquake, was not sent in sooner.

Erdogan acknowledged issues, like the difficulty of delivering supplies despite the destruction of transport lines, but stated that the situation was under control.

Syria aid complicated by years of war

The hostilities that have ravaged Syria over the past 12 years of civil war are now impeding aid efforts.

A U.N. official stated that approval concerns with the Islamist organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which controls most of the region, have slowed the delivery of earthquake supplies from government-held parts into the opposition-controlled territory.

A source for the HTS in Idlib told Reuters that the organization would not permit shipments from government-held areas and that aid would come via Turkey's northern border.

U.N. spokesperson Jens Laerke stated that the organization hopes to expand cross-border activities by creating two additional border crossings between Turkey and opposition-held Syria for relief supplies.

Sunday marked the first high-level visit by an Arab official since the earthquake when the foreign minister of U.S. ally the United Arab Emirates met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Several Arab nations have assisted Assad in the aftermath of the earthquake. Western nations, which attempted to isolate Assad following his 2011 crackdown on protesters and the onset of civil war, are critical contributors to U.N. humanitarian efforts across Syria but have supplied little direct aid to Damascus during the civil war.

Sunday also marked the arrival in Damascus of the first consignment of European earthquake help for Syrian government-held areas.

Geir Pedersen, the U.N. ambassador for Syria, stated in Damascus that the United Nations was mobilizing resources to support Syria. "We're trying to tell everyone: Put politics aside; this is a time to unite behind a common effort to support the Syrian people," he said.

The earthquake ranks as the sixth deadliest natural disaster of the 21st century, surpassing the 31,000 deaths caused by an earthquake in neighbouring Iran in 2003.

It has killed 29,605 people in Turkey and around 3,500 in Syria, where the death toll has not been updated in two days.

Turkey said that approximately 80,000 people were hospitalized, and more than one million were in temporary shelters.

Publish : 2023-02-13 08:50:00

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