The catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria has claimed the lives of more than 16,000 people.
Turkey’s disaster management agency said at least 12,873 people had been confirmed killed after the first 7.8-magnitude quake hit the Turkish city of Gaziantep in the early hours of Monday (6 February), bringing down thousands of buildings in south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria as people slept.
A series of aftershocks has left tens of thousands injured and survivors are feared trapped under collapsed buildings, but relief efforts have been hampered by damaged infrastructure, freezing winter temperatures and limited medical facilities.
On the other side of the border in Syria, at least another 3,162 people have been reported to have been killed. Rescue workers are continuing to pull survivors from the damaged homes but hope is starting to fade amid freezing temperatures more than three full days since the quake hit.
It comes after the president of Turkey acknowledged “shortcomings” in his country’s response to the world’s deadliest earthquake in more than a decade.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the especially hard-hit Hatay province on Wednesday (8 February), where more than 3,300 people died and entire neighbourhoods were destroyed. Residents there have criticised the government’s efforts, saying rescuers were slow to arrive.
Mr Erdogan, who faces a tough battle for re-election in May, reacted to the mounting frustration by acknowledging problems with the emergency response to Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake. He said the winter weather had been a factor and the earthquake had also destroyed the runway at Hatay’s airport, further disrupting the response. He said: “It is not possible to be prepared for such a disaster. We will not leave any of our citizens uncared for.”
He also hit back at critics, saying “dishonourable people” were spreading “lies and slander” about the government’s actions. Turkish authorities said they were targeting disinformation, and an internet monitoring group said access to Twitter was restricted despite it being used by survivors to alert rescuers.
Around 70 members of the UK International Search and Rescue Team have now arrived in Turkey to assist with the search operation as the death toll continues to climb. The team of volunteers, which included firefighters, medics, engineers and vets, was joined by crews from at least 24 countries.
UK International Search and Rescue team coordinator Mark Davey said it had taken a lot of organisation to get to Antakya, in the Hatay province, due to the amount of destruction caused to basic infrastructure.
Mr Davey explained the crew would conduct an assessment of the destroyed area street by street before sending the information back to the rescue team’s command and control.
He said: “The whole area has already been sectorised by our team and the other teams, (including) Italy (and) Istanbul – there’s many teams here. I believe there is 33 or 40 search and rescue teams here.
“We are logically going through the area. Street by street, gathering as much information as possible so we can send that back to our command and control, so we organise the teams to come back with specific tools and actually prioritise each of the areas. Hopefully, (we’ll) have some good news and get those people back and, repatriate, obviously with their loved ones, with their families.”
Turkey sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. In 1999, some 18,000 were killed in powerful earthquakes that hit the northwest of the country.