Quake Turkey
People warm themselves near a bonfire amidst the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, on February 8, 2023, two days after a 7,8-magnitude earthquake struck southeast Turkey. Searchers were still pulling survivors on from the rubble of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, even as the window for rescues narrowed. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: “It is not possible to live here, especially in this cold,” Ahmet Tokgoz, an earthquake survivor in the Turkish city of Antakya, said. “People are warming up around campfires, but campfires can only warm you up so much. ... If people haven’t died from being stuck under the rubble, they’ll die from the cold.”

Aysan Kurt, 27, said in Turkey’s Kahramanmaras: “We don’t have a tent, we don’t have a heating stove, we don’t have anything. Our children are in bad shape. We did not die from hunger or the earthquake, but we will die freezing from the cold.”

Tokgoz and Kurt are among the thousands who lost their homes in a catastrophic earthquake, huddled around campfires and clamoured for food and water in the bitter cold three days after the temblor and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 17,500.

Cold weather hampers rescue

Bitter cold has hampered the four-day search of thousands of flattened buildings, and the 72-hour mark that experts consider the most likely period to save lives has passed. But emergency crews in Turkey and Syria worked through the night to find survivors, saying it was too soon to abandon hope.

While stories of miraculous rescues briefly buoyed spirits, the grim reality of the hardship facing tens of thousands who survived the disaster cast a pall.

In Antakya, rescuers pulled out a young girl, Hazal Guner, from the ruins of a building and also rescued her father, Soner Guner. As they prepared to load the man into an ambulance, rescue crews told him his daughter was alive. “I love you all,” he faintly whispered.

Turkey quake rescue
Emergency personnel conduct a rescue operation to save 16-year-old Melda from the rubble of a collapsed building in Hatay, southern Turkey, on February 9, 2023, where she has been trapped since a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country's south-east. Image Credit: AFP

Two infant boys were rescued from the rubble in Kahramanmaras, while a resident reported that rescue workers pulled out his mother and brother from the debris after digging for hours. An injured 60-year-old woman was saved from the wreckage of an apartment block in Malatya 77 hours after the first quake struck, state broadcaster TRT said.

Many others in Malatya were not so lucky, as bodies were placed on the ground. Relatives were left scouring body bags in a hospital car park in Antakya to search for missing relatives.

Relief efforts in Syria

In Syria, relief efforts are complicated by a conflict that has partitioned the country and wrecked its infrastructure.

“Even the buildings that haven’t collapsed were severely damaged. There are now more people under the rubble than those above it,” Hassan said from Jindayris. “There are around 400-500 people trapped under each collapsed building, with only 10 people trying to pull them out. And there is no machinery,” he added.

The White Helmets, leading efforts to rescue people buried under rubble, have appealed for international help in their “race against time”. “Put politics aside and let us do our humanitarian work,” the UN’s resident Syria coordinator El Mostafa Benlamlih told AFP.

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Ahmad Idris, a Syrian now living in Saraqib after being displaced by the war, cried in agony as he looked at the bodies of 25 family members. “We came here on the basis of finding a safe shelter for us and our children,” he said. “But in the end, look how fate has caught up to us here.”

In Aleppo, rescue workers pulled seven people out alive and 44 bodies from a collapsed building, state TV reported. Munira Mohammad, a mother of four who had fled Aleppo to Idlib, said: “It is all children here, and we need heating and supplies; last night we couldn’t sleep because it was so cold. It is very bad.”

Temperatures in the Turkish city of Gaziantep plunged to minus five degrees Celsius, but thousands of families spent the night in makeshift tents — too scared or banned from returning home.

Turkey quake grief
A relative of a victim of a deadly earthquake reacts near the site of a collapsed building in Adiyaman, Turkey, on February 8, 2023. Bitter cold has hampered the four-day search of thousands of flattened buildings and the 72-hour mark that experts consider the most likely period to save lives has passed. Image Credit: Reuters

Parents walked the city streets carrying their children in blankets because it was warmer than sitting in a tent. Some people have found sanctuary with neighbours or relatives. But many have nowhere to go.

Gyms, mosques, schools and some stores have opened up at night. But beds are still at a premium, and thousands spend the nights in cars with engines running to provide heat.

With thousands of people still buried under piles of rubble, many survivors appeared unwilling to leave the region despite the freezing weather.

— With reports from AP, AFP & Bloomberg