Miracle rescues; death toll at 36K
The death toll from historic earthquakes that rocked Turkey and Syria a week ago rose further Monday even as miraculous rescues fueled the tiniest hope for those seeking to learn about their loved ones, and new paths to help victims in Syria seemed about to open up.
Rescue workers in Turkey saved a 10-year-girl from the rubble of an apartment block Monday in the southern Turkish province of Kahramanmaras, 183 hours after the first quake shook the region, state broadcaster TRT Haber reported.
In Hatay province, a 13-year-old boy named Kaan was found alive under debris. And in Adiyamanyaman, Bünyamin İdacı, 35, was removed from a destroyed building.
“We have saved another life in the works we have been carrying out,” said İlhan Colak, team leader of a rescue group that included 20 miners from Somalia. “I can’t find the words to speak.”
The confirmed death toll stood at more than 36,000 for the two nations and was expected to rise in coming days, but it appears those impacted in Syria will have a better chance to survive.
The United Nations said Syrian President Bashar Assad has agreed to open two new crossing points from Turkey to the rebel-held northwest to deliver quake aid. Earlier Monday, Turkey had offered to establish a second border crossing. For now, the U.N. has only been allowed to bring aid to that area through the crossing at Bab Al-Hawa.
Despite the rare, inspiring rescues, thousands of bodies were being removed from toppled buildings, and experts say the chances of finding survivors are increasingly slim. And a week after the quakes hit, many people were still in the streets without shelter.
The magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 quakes struck nine hours apart in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria on Feb. 6. Scores of strong aftershocks added to the damage as more than 6,000 buildings collapsed.
HOW YOU CAN HELP: How to help Turkey, Syria: Relief efforts ongoing after deadliest earthquake in years
►The baby girl born under the rubble of her family’s home in northern Syria was in good health Monday, her doctor said. Her great-uncle, Saleh al-Badran, said Aya — Arabic for “a sign from God” — may leave the hospital in the next couple of days and will be raised by her paternal aunt, who recently gave birth.
►Turkish Airlines said it has resumed flights from Hatay Airport and evacuations were underway. The airport’s runway had been damaged by the quakes.
►Hundreds gathered in New York’s Time Square on Sunday to pay homage to the quake victims.
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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed Assad’s decision to open crossing points at Bab Al-Salam and Al Raée, allowing much-needed aid and equipment to reach millions in rebel-held northwest Syria for three months.
“Delivering food, health, nutrition, protection, shelter, winter supplies and other life-saving supplies to all the millions of people affected is of the utmost urgency,” Guterres said in a statement.
Assad had met in Damascus with U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, who had advocated for more help for northwest Syria and briefed the Security Council.
“Opening these crossing points – along with facilitating humanitarian access, accelerating visa approvals and easing travel between hubs – will allow more aid to go in, faster,” Guterres said.
Even before news broke that new crossings to bring aid into Syria may be set up, the top UN aid official said he was heartened by the increase in relief convoys rolling into the country Monday, but warned that more must be done.
“I am encouraged by the scale-up of convoys from the UN transshipment center at the Turkish border,” tweeted Martin Griffiths, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief. “We need to open more access points and get more aid out fast.”
Earlier, Griffiths had lamented that aid efforts had “failed the people in northwest Syria.”
The earthquake death toll in that opposition-held region has reached 2,166, according to the rescue group the White Helmets. Another 1,414 people have died in government-held areas, according to the Syrian Health Ministry, for a total of 3,580.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that alliance members have agreed to provide shelter facilities “as soon as possible” to help accommodate people displaced by the earthquakes. Thousands of emergency response personnel have been supporting the recovery, including search and rescue teams, firefighters, medical personnel and seismic experts, he said. He said NATO is in “strong solidarity” with Turkey.
Stoltenberg stressed that the earthquakes will have long-term consequences.
“I think it is important both to make sure that we get support quickly but also to ensure that we actually are able to stay,” he said.
WHY TURKEY IS VULNERABLE: Deadly earthquakes have hit Turkey before: Why there? Could a similar quake strike the US?
In Turkish cities and villages alike, the extent of the devastation and the harsh conditions amid frigid weather are leading some to despair.
Turkish authorities said more than 150,000 have been moved to shelters outside the affected provinces. In the city of Adiyaman, where many who are now homeless lined up for meals Monday, 25-year-old Musa Bozkurt wondered about the point of going elsewhere.
“We’re going away, but we have no idea what will happen when we get there,” Bozkurt said. “We have no goal. Even if there was (a plan), what good will it be after this hour? I no longer have my father or my uncle. What do I have left?”
In the village of Polat, about 60 miles from the epicenter in Kahramanmaras, there were hardly any houses left standing, and a shortage of tents forced groups of residents to share the ones available.
“We sleep in the mud, all together with two, three, even four families,” survivor Zehra Kurukafa said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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