World Cup Star Reportedly Rescued From Earthquake Rubble as Death Toll Passes 5,000

Scott Heppell/Reuters
Scott Heppell/Reuters

A World Cup soccer star has reportedly been pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building in Turkey, where a series of of earthquakes unleashed catastrophe in the country and neighboring Syria on Monday, leaving at least 5,000 people dead.

Christian Atsu, 31, who represented Ghana at the 2014 World Cup, was confirmed to have been rescued from the wreckage in Hatay by the Ghana Football Association on Tuesday. “We’ve received some positive news that Christian Atsu has been successfully rescued from the rubble of the collapsed building and is receiving treatment,” the national soccer organization tweeted. “Let’s continue to pray for Christian.”

Thousands Feared Dead in Massive Overnight Earthquake

Atsu, who previously played for Premier League teams including Chelsea, Newcastle, and Everton, signed to Turkish club Hatayspor in September. His manager, Mustafa Özat, told Turkish radio that channel Radyo Gol on Tuesday that while Atsu had been rescued “with injuries,” Hatayspor’s sporting director Taner Savut “is still under the rubble,” the BBC reports. “Hatay was deeply affected,” Özat added. “We are coming towards the end of the most dangerous hours.”

Atsu’s rescue is one of countless emergencies which search teams in Turkey and Syria have attempted to address in the aftermath of Monday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake and powerful aftershocks. After the initial quake razed buildings as people slept, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake brought more chaos hours later.

Desperate rescue missions are still underway as over 5,000 people have been reported dead so far, including 3,419 in Turkey, the nation’s Vice President Fuat Oktay said in an update Tuesday. Another 20,534 have been injured and over 8,000 have been rescued, Oktay added. The staggering toll makes it Turkey’s deadliest earthquake since 1999.

The Syrian government has recorded at least 812 deaths in its territory as of Tuesday, the country’s Ministry of Health said in a Telegram update. The White Helmets volunteer rescue organization, which works in rebel-held areas of Syria’s northwest, said at least another 790 fatalities had been reported. “The death toll is expected to dramatically rise as hundreds remain trapped under rubble,” the group tweeted on Tuesday.

Rescue efforts are being stymied by freezing weather which is making the distribution of aid difficult, Oktay said. The widespread destruction of infrastructure has also hindered search operations and left thousands of families homeless. In Turkey alone, 5,775 buildings have been destroyed by the quake, the country’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority said.

Adelheid Marschang, the World Health Organization (WHO) senior emergencies officer, estimated that as many as 23 million people may be affected by the disaster. “Event overview maps show that potentially 23 million people are exposed, including around five million vulnerable populations,” Marschang told the WHO’s executive committee in Geneva, Al Jazeera reports.

On Tuesday, President Biden tweeted that he was “deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation” caused by the quakes. “I have directed my team to continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with Turkiye and provide any and all needed assistance,” he added.

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