The earth moved over Turkey and Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency across 10 provinces as rescuers in Turkey and Syria struggled to find survivours. 

6 mins read
Deadliest Earthquake hit Turkey and Syria on 6th February, 2023 [Photo Credit: Special arrangement]

The earth moved. What Turkey and Syria went through was doomsday in the strictest sense. They are currently facing not only the largest disaster of their history but also the largest on these lands in the past thousand years.

An earthquake is an intense shaking of Earth’s surface. The shaking is caused by movements in Earth’s outermost layer. On Monday 6th February, two massive earthquakes with a 7.9 and 7.5 magnitude hit south-eastern Turkey and south-western Syria.

According to reports, the death toll in Turkey and Syria now stands at 30,000 people, with more than 75,500 injured. But UN relief chief Martin Griffiths has said, “Turkey-Syria quake deaths to top 50,000.” Over 12,000 buildings have collapsed in Turkey alone, and, with many trapped beneath the rubble. We expect that these shocking figures will rise further, adding to the devastation in a region already roiling from years of conflict and economic and humanitarian crises.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency across 10 provinces as rescuers in Turkey and Syria struggled to find survivours.  “Thousandsof people have been injured. They have lost everything and are traumatised by the terrible earthquake and the series of aftershocks,” explains Myriam Abord-Hugon, HI’s Syria program director.

“It is currently winter in the affected region and people are facing cold, rain and bad weather after losing their homes and belongings. There is an urgent need to provide them with aid.” The earthquake has affected 23 million people, including 1.4 million children, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

George Graham, Chief Executive of Humanity & Inclusion UK has said, “We expect a huge need for rehabilitation. Many of these injuries can worsen or turn into permanent disabilities if people do not receive appropriate rehabilitation services such as physiotherapy and prosthetic fitting. We know from responding to disasters in other countries that one of the heaviest legacies of this earthquake will be its psychological impact.”

He further added, “Surviving an earthquake can be a deeply traumatising experience – and it will be especially so for people who have already endured a decade of war in Syria. Psychological first aid will be an essential component of the emergency response.”

Earthquake rescue team from 75 countries including Bangladesh have arrived in Turkey and Syria. The team will cooperate with the local government, the embassy in Turkey, the United Nations and other agencies on missions, including setting up a temporary command, carrying out personnel search and rescue and providing medical aid, the international media reports said.

“There is not even a single person here. We are under the snow, without a home, without anything,” said Murat Alinak, whose home in Malatya had collapsed and whose relatives are missing.  He was wailing, “What shall I do, where can I go?”

Monday’s magnitude 7.8 quake, followed hours later by a second one almost as powerful, toppled thousands of buildings including hospitals, schools and apartment blocks, injured tens of thousands, and left countless people homeless in Turkey and northern Syria.

The sole border crossing used to shuttle life-saving aid from Turkey into conflict-ravaged Syria has seen its operations disrupted by the deadly earthquake that struck the two countries, according to the UN. “The cross-border operation has itself been impacted,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, told reporters in Geneva.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, said the Bab al-Hawa crossing itself is “actually intact.” However, the road that is leading to the crossing has been damaged, and that’s temporarily disrupted our ability to fully use it,” Dujarric said.

Now areas surrounding that one border crossing have suffered significant infrastructure damage, while the aid workers on the ground have been hit by the catastrophe.

Reporting from the site of destroyed multistorey building in the southern Turkish city of Adana, FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer says rescue teams are working gingerly with winches to cut concrete slabs and clear the debris. “Every hour or so, they stop working and they tell everybody to shut-up. They then call down into the rubble, asking people to make a sound if they can hear them. Then after a few minutes, they resume work,” explained Mortimer.

The US military aircraft carrying the teams and equipment were to land at Incirlik Air Base in the southern Turkish province of Adana and deploy immediately to hard-hit urban centers to save as many people as possible, Allen said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has asked European countries to send aid. In an interview with the Lebanese Al Mayadeen TV, Mekdad said the sanctions are no excuse to avoid sending aid to quake-hit Syria. Syrian officials have long argued that western sanctions have harmed reconstruction efforts in areas where the 12-year conflict has subsided. The US and European nations have said that sanctions aim to pressure the Syrian government into a political process that could end the conflict. Al Mayadeen TV did not specify if the aid call was also for the opposition-held regions in Syria.

Hundreds of shipping containers were ablaze at the Iskenderun Port earlier last Tuesday, sending thick black smoke into the sky and shutting down operations, forcing freight liners to divert vessels to other ports.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called Syria’s Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to offer condolences and support, their offices announced, in the first official exchange between the two leaders. Ahmed Fahmy, spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, said Sisi “expressed his sincere condolences” in the wake of the earthquake. “President Sisi reiterated Egypt’s solidarity with Syria and its brotherly people in this calamity. He also directed that all possible aid be provided to Syria,” Fahmy said.

Syrian state news agency SANA said “President Assad thanked Egypt for this position, which reflects the fraternal relations that bind the two brotherly countries.” While Egyptian state media noted the presidents’ call was their first since Sisi assumed office in 2014, the two countries have maintained relations during Syria’s 12-year war, unlike some other Arab countries who severed ties with Damascus. Egypt’s official position on Syria has called for “a political solution”, steering clear of discussing the fate of Assad himself, whose departure has long been demanded by several Arab leaders.

Turkey’s maritime authority said on Monday that the port, located on the Mediterranean coast in the southern province of Hatay, was damaged due to the earthquake. Turkish shipping agency Tribeca said some cargo areas of Limak port at the Iskenderun complex were still on fire and the terminal was closed to all operations until further notice. Container shipping firm AP Moller Maersk said all operations at the port have been halted until further notice.

Raed al-Saleh told Reuters urgent help was needed from international groups for the rescue effort by the organisation known as the White Helmets in rebel-held northwest Syria, where hundreds were killed and injured. “Every second means saving lives and we call on all humanitarian organisations to give material aid and respond to this catastrophe urgently,” he said.

Germany will provide an additional million euros to the Malteser International aid group and is working to make more financial aid available to other humanitarian partners helping quake victims in Syria, said Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

Speaking at a news conference in Berlin on Tuesday with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirsojan, Baerbock added that Germany is also pushing for humanitarian access to Syria. The United Nations children’s agency said on Tuesday that the earthquake and aftershocks that destroyed scores of buildings in Turkey and Syria may have killed thousands of children.

Ghana international winger Christian Atsu has been found alive after being buried under rubble by the earthquake, the vice president of his club Hatayspor told media on Tuesday. He had been reported missing in Turkey’s Hatay province.

In the southern Turkish city of Adana, about 200 kilometres from the earthquake’s epicentre, “about 10 buildings have collapsed, all of them high-rises, so there are victims here. There are rescue teams here, but it is stable enough and secure enough for the city to have become a hub for rescue teams arriving not only from all around Turkey but also internationally,” FRANCE 24’s Shona Bhattacharyya reports.

A large fire that broke out at a section of a port in an earthquake-stricken city in southeast Turkey is raging for a second day. Television images Tuesday showed thick black smoke rising from burning containers at Iskenderun Port on the Mediterranean Sea, in the city of Iskenderun. Reports said the fire was caused by containers that toppled over during the powerful earthquake that struck southeast Turkey on last Monday.

In Gaziantep, a Turkish city home to countless refugees from Syria’s decade-old civil war, rescuers picking through the rubble screamed, cried and clamoured for safety as another building collapsed nearby without warning. The initial earthquake was so large it was felt as far away as Greenland, and the impact is big enough to have sparked a global response.

In the city of Kahramanmaras in southeastern Turkey, eyewitnesses struggled to comprehend the scale of the disaster. “We thought it was the apocalypse,” said Melisa Salman, a 23-year-old reporter. “That was the first time we have ever experienced anything like that.”

Strained medical centers quickly filled with injured people, rescue workers said. Some facilities had to be emptied, including a maternity hospital, according to the SAMS medical organisation.

The earthquake piled more misery on a region that has seen tremendous suffering over the past decade. On the Syrian side, the area is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is home to millions of refugees from the civil war.

Bitterly cold temperatures could reduce the time frame that rescuers have to save trapped survivours, Steven Godby, an expert in natural hazards at Nottingham Trent University, told AP. The difficulty of working in areas beset by civil war would further complicate rescue efforts, he noted.

Currently, there are over a million people who are left without homes. There is also a great need to work in many fields, including the reconstruction of cities and psychological support.

They are at the bottom of the ladder, but great nations hold a great sense of endurance. We hope they will overcome this disaster and emerge stronger than before.

Anwar A. Khan

Anwar A. Khan is an independent political analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs

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