'Like we woke up to hell': Over 11,000 dead in quake-battered Turkey, Syria; baby rescued after being born under rubble: Updates
The death toll surpassed 11,000 people across Turkey and Syria early Wednesday as the frantic search for survivors from two powerful earthquakes and a series of violent aftershocks continued.
The temblors on Monday toppled more than 6,000 buildings. In Turkey alone, more than 24,000 rescue workers from around the world were picking through mammoth heaps of debris seeking signs of life in a battle against time and pulling 8,000-plus people out of the rubble.
Amid the overwhelming suffering and destruction there were moments of joy, such as the rescue of several survivors under rubble for more than a day in the hard-hit Hatay province of Turkey, and the discovery of a newborn clinging to life while still attached to his dead mother's umbilical cord in northwest Syria.
But there was also a lot of despair and frustration that rescues are taking so long.
“It’s like we woke up to hell,” said Osman Can Taninmis, whose family members were still buried in debris in Hatay. “Help isn’t coming, can’t come. We can’t reach anyone at all. Everywhere is destroyed.”
Turkey’s emergency management agency said the country's death count has surpassed 5,400, with about 31,000 injured. An estimated 380,000 survivors have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels.
"We are facing one of the biggest disasters not only of the history of the Turkish Republic but also of ... the world," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
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►Adelheid Marschang, a senior emergencies officer with the World Health Organization, said up to 23 million people could be affected in the entire area hit by the earthquake, calling it a “crisis on top of multiple crises.”
►Turkish Airlines said it shuttled 80 flights with almost 12,000 volunteers into the earthquake zone in southern Turkey on Tuesday. CEO Bilal Eksi said the flights would continue as long as necessary.
►The Palestinian Authority says 57 Palestinian refugees have died in the earthquake, 43 in Syria and 14 in Turkey.
►More than a dozen people in Turkey faced investigation for alleged “provocative” earthquake social media postings authorities said tried to foment “fear and panic,” local news media reported.
►Christian Atsu, a former striker with Chelsea and Newcastle in the British Premier League, was rescued from the rubble of a collapsed building and being treated, the Ghana Football Association tweeted. Atsu, 31, signed with a Turkish team last year.
Baby rescued after being born under rubble
Residents digging through a collapsed building in northwest Syria discovered a crying baby whose mother appeared to have given birth while buried beneath the rubble, relatives and a doctor said Tuesday. The newborn girl’s umbilical cord was still connected to her mother, Afraa Abu Hadiya, who died in the collapse, they said.
The baby was the only member of her immediate family to survive in the small town of Jinderis, next to the Turkish border, Ramadan Sleiman, a relative, told The Associated Press.
The newborn, her umbilical cord still dangling after a neighbor cut it, was rushed to a hospital in the nearby town of Afrin and kept in an incubator. She had a large bruise on her back but was in stable condition, said Dr. Hani Maarouf, who was treating her.
Maarouf estimated the baby was born several hours before being found, given how much her temperature had dropped. “Had the girl been left for an hour more, she would have died,” he said.
Also in Jinderis, a toddler girl was found alive buried in concrete under the wreckage of her home.
California quakes not unlike those in Turkey
California and Turkey are not drastically different when it comes to earthquakes, except they should be more frequent in California, said Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at the risk management firm Moody’s RMS. Earthquakes in Turkey are big, principally "strike-slip and on a broad plate boundary,” he said. Faults that move horizontally are known as strike-slip faults.
Earthquake residential insurance penetration in Turkey is higher than in California, but building code compliance is much better in California, Muir-Wood said.
"Such earthquakes should be at least twice as common in California," he said.
David Oglesby, a seismologist and professor of geophysics at the University of California-Riverside, pointed out the notorious San Andreas fault that crosses most of the state from north to south is also of the strike-slip variety.
Oglesby said buildings collapsing in a major earthquake are less of a danger in California than objects falling on people. He cited a 2008 study by the U.S. Geological Survey that estimated a magnitude 7.8 earthquake like Monday's would cause more than 1,800 deaths, 50,000 injuries and $200 billion in damage if it struck in Southern California.
"Downtown Los Angeles is built on a basin filled with soft sediment that would act like a bowl full of Jell-O in a big earthquake,'' Oglesby said. "It’s not a matter of if but when a quake of roughly this size hits Southern California. People need to take precautions and be prepared.''
30 hours after collapse, survivors freed from rubble
In Turkey's southernmost Hatay province, the Daily Sabah reported that a 16-year-old girl was rescued after being trapped under the debris of a five-story building for nearly 22 hours. Five more survivors were found in the downtown Antakya district nearly 30 hours after the quake. Rescue teams also dug out four other people in two separate piles of wreckage nearby. A few hours later, teams extricated a mother and her two daughters alive from under a building.
Crews also rescued a child and his big sister. Rescuers said they heard their cries of “I’m scared, I can’t get out” as workers rushed to free them.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said more than 1,600 people were killed in Hatay, the most of any of the 10 affected provinces and 30% of the Turkish total so far. Koca said more than 1,800 have been rescued but efforts to come to the victims' aid have been complicated by the airport closing after its runway was destroyed.
In Syria, no end in sight to suffering
In northwest Syria, the quake leveled towns in a region already under siege. Millions of people have been displaced by a civil war that has dragged on for more than a decade.
The death toll in Syria has exceeded 1,800 -- about 1,000 of them in the war-torn northwest region held by the opposition -- and the number was expected to rise. International sanctions have made rebuilding difficult amid the fighting, and the task just became more daunting.
The United Nations released $25 million from its emergency fund as part of the humanitarian response for both countries but faces large obstacles reaching those affected in northwest Syria.
For one, the road leading to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing from Turkey -- the only one allowed for U.N. aid -- was damaged by the quake, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. In addition, the Hatay airport in southern Turkey is closed because of runway damage. Dujarric said the U.N. was preparing a convoy to cross the conflict lines within Syria.
And the conflict between the rebels and Bashar Assad's government in Damascus further complicates sending assistance, said Natasha Hall, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“It is extremely logistically and administratively difficult to get the approvals (from Damascus),” she said. Coordination of aid is also hampered “because the government of Syria doesn’t recognize the non-governmental organizations working in northwest Syria.”
Electric, natural gas infrastructure severely damaged
Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Dönmez said the quakes severely damaged electricity and natural gas transmission and distribution lines. State pipeline operator BOTAŞ and major power supplier Enerjisa said they were examining and repairing damage around the clock “under very difficult weather and terrain conditions.”
Some repair work has been completed, yet some regions were not supplied with power for safety reasons, Engerjis said.
Turkey declares 3-month state of emergency
Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 southern provinces. Flags were lowered to half-staff as the country observes seven days of national mourning. He said 13 million of the country’s 85 million people were affected in some way by the disaster.
"Our biggest relief is that over 8,000 of our citizens have been rescued from the rubble so far," Erdogan said.
Children among the most vulnerable
UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, said its immediate focus is on ensuring children and families have access to safe drinking water and sanitation services, reuniting kids with families, providing "psychological first aid" and getting schools, now many of them being used for temporary housing, reopened. Displaced families in northwest Syria and Syrian refugee families living in Turkey in informal settlements are among the most vulnerable, UNICEF spokesman James Elder said.
"Communities are grappling with an ongoing cholera outbreak and heavy rain and snow," Elder said. "In this context, and one of more than a decade of conflict, this earthquake is utterly unbearable."
Wintry weather impedes search for the living
Attempts to reach survivors were hindered by temperatures near freezing and close to 200 aftershocks, which made the search through unstable structures perilous.
Nurgul Atay told The Associated Press she could hear her mother’s voice beneath the rubble of a collapsed building in the city of Antakya, the capital of Hatay province, but efforts to get into the ruins had been futile without any rescue crews and heavy equipment to help.
“If only we could lift the concrete slab we’d be able to reach her,” Atay said. “My mother is 70 years old; she won’t be able to withstand this for long.”
The relief operation often struggled to reach devastated towns, and voices that had been crying out from the rubble fell silent.
“We could hear their voices, they were calling for help,” said Ali Silo, whose two relatives could not be saved in the Turkish town of Nurdag.
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Thousands left homeless
In Turkey’s Hatay province, thousands of people sheltered in sports centers or fair halls, while others spent the night outside, huddled in blankets around fires. In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, a provincial capital about 20 miles southeast of the epicenter, people took refuge in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centers.
On the Syrian side, the affected area is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Strained medical centers overflowed with the wounded, rescue workers said. Some buildings remained standing but were no longer structurally sound and had to be emptied, including a maternity hospital, according to the Syrian American Medical Society.
"We’ve been receiving victims of the quake as they come in, all while simultaneously working to guarantee the well-being of our over 1,700 staff members in Syria, and the 90 at the epicenter near Gaziantep,” said Dr. Amjad Rass, the SAMS president.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Turkey, Syria earthquake updates: Death toll rises; search continues