Rising toll makes quake worst in Turkey’s modern history

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Tuesday that more than 35,000 people have died in Turkey as a result of last week’s earthquake, making it the deadliest such disaster since the country’s founding 100 years ago.

While the death toll is almost certain to rise even further, many of the tens of thousands of survivors left homeless were still struggling to meet basic needs, such as finding shelter from the bitter cold.

Confirmed deaths in Turkey passed those recorded from the massive Erzincan earthquake in 1939 that killed around 33,000 people.

Mr Erdogan said 105,505 were injured as a result of the February 6 quake centred around Kahramanmaras and its aftershocks.

Almost 3,700 deaths have been confirmed in neighbouring Syria, taking the combined toll in both countries to over 39,000.

The Turkish president, who has referred to the quakes as “the disaster of the century”, said more than 13,000 people were still being treated in hospital.

Speaking in Ankara following a five-hour Cabinet meeting held at the headquarters of disaster agency AFAD, Mr Erdogan said 47,000 buildings, which contained 211,000 residences, had either been destroyed or were so badly damaged as to require demolition.

“We will continue our work until we get our last citizen out of the destroyed buildings,” Mr Erdogan said of ongoing rescue efforts.

MIDDLE EAST Earthquake
(PA Graphics)

The situation was particularly desperate in Syria, where a 12-year civil war has complicated relief efforts.

The Syrian Health Ministry announced a final count of 1,414 deaths and 1,357 injuries in areas under government control.

On Tuesday, the United Nations launched a 397 million US dollar (£326 million) appeal to provide “desperately needed, life-saving relief for nearly five million Syrians” for three months.

It came a day after the global body announced a deal with Damascus to deliver UN aid through two more border crossings from Turkey to rebel-held areas of north-west Syria — but the needs remained enormous.

Ahmed Ismail Suleiman set up a shelter of blankets outside his damaged house in the town of Jinderis, one of the worst-hit communities in north-west Syria.

He was afraid to move his family back into a house that might not be structurally sound, so 18 people slept outside under the makeshift tent.

“We sit but can’t sleep lying down here,” he said. “We are waiting for a proper tent.”

Mahmoud Haffar, head of the town council, said residents have been able to scrounge up about 2,500 tents so far, but some 1,500 families still remain without shelter — as night-time temperatures fall to around minus 4C.

“We are … still hearing the question of when will aid get in,” said Mr Haffar.

Offers of help – from rescue crews and doctors to generators and food – have come from around the world, but the needs remain immense after the magnitude 7.8 quake and powerful aftershocks toppled or damaged tens of thousands of buildings, destroyed roads and closed airports for a time.

The quake affected 10 provinces in Turkey that are home to some 13.5 million people, as well as a large area in north-west Syria that is home to millions.

Much of the water system in the quake-hit region was not working, and Turkey’s health minister said samples from dozens of points of the system showed the water was unsuitable to drink.

Turkey Syria Earthqauke
A man walks between trains using as shelters, in Iskenderun city, southern Turkey (Hussein Malla/AP)

While many have left in recent days for nearby camps or other parts of Turkey, dozens of people were still living in the trains on Tuesday.

“The wagons have become our home,” 50-year-old Nida Karahan told Anadolu Agency.

While a first Saudi aid plane, carrying 35 tons of food, landed in Syrian government-held Aleppo on Tuesday, getting aid to the country’s rebel-held Idlib has been especially complicated.

Until Monday’s deal between the UN and the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, the global body had only been allowed to deliver aid to the area through a single border crossing with Turkey, or via government territory.

The newly opened crossings at Bab al-Salameh and Al Raee are to function for an initial period of three months.

Turkey Syria Earthquake
A rescue dog searches in the debris of a collapsed building in Antakya, south-eastern Turkey (Bernat Armangue/AP)

“This is a constant back and forth in negotiations,” said World Health Organisation spokesman Christian Lindmeier. “Every party has to agree to receive convoys.”

More than 200 hours after the quake struck, teacher Emine Akgul was pulled from an apartment building in Antakya by a mining search and rescue team, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

In Adiyaman province, rescuers reached 18-year-old Muhammed Cafer Cetin, and medics gave him an IV with fluids before attempting a dangerous extraction from a building that crumbled further as rescuers were working.

Medics fitted him with a neck brace and he was carried away on a stretcher with an oxygen mask, Turkish TV showed.

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