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Monday, February 13, 2023, 14:46
Death toll mounts in Turkiye, Syria quakes
By Hou Liqiang and Xu Wei
Monday, February 13, 2023, 14:46 By Hou Liqiang and Xu Wei

Xi extends sympathy as aid pours in after huge temblors rock the two nations, claiming thousands of lives

Residents search for earthquake survivors amid the rubble of collapsed buildings in the village of Besnaya in Syria’s Idlib Province on Feb 6. (PHOTO / AFP)

As the death toll from the devastating earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria continues to rise, Chinese President Xi Jinping has extended messages of sympathy to the leaders of those two nations, while rescue teams and aid materials from China and elsewhere arrive in the quake-hit areas. 

In his messages to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Xi said he was shocked to learn that the quakes led to major casualties and losses in the two nations.

On behalf of the Chinese government and people, he expressed deep grief over the deaths and extended sincere sympathy to the families of the victims and to those who were injured.

Xi said he believes the two nations and their people, led by their respective presidents, will surely get through the disaster at an early date and rebuild their homes.

Support is arriving for Turkiye and Syria as a frantic race against time takes place in near-freezing temperatures to pull survivors from the rubble after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake caused devastation in the two nations at 4:17 am local time on Feb 6 and was followed by another quake at 1:24 pm and hundreds of aftershocks.

The total number of deaths in the two countries soared past 15,300 as of Feb 9.

The first quake, the magnitude 7.8 temblor, rocked southeastern Turkiye and northern Syria, toppling hundreds of buildings and trapping thousands of people beneath rubble. It hit near Gaziantep in southeastern Turkiye at a depth of about 17.9 kilometers, according to the US Geological Survey.

The quake, which was centered in Turkiye’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, sent residents of Damascus and Beirut rushing into the street.

More than 20 aftershocks followed, some occurring hours later during daylight, Turkish authorities said.

A second earthquake, at magnitude 7.5, hit southeastern Turkiye at 1:24 pm on Feb 6, the USGS reported, adding that the quake hit south-southeast of the town of Ekinozu and at a depth of about 10 kilometers.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that “search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched” to the areas hit by the quake.

Images on Turkish television showed rescuers digging through rubble across city centers and residential neighborhoods of almost all the big cities running along the border with Syria.

Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the first quake’s epicenter between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, where entire city blocks lay in ruins under the gathering snow.

Kahramanmaras Governor Omer Faruk Coskun said, “It is not possible to give the number of dead and injured at the moment because so many buildings have been destroyed.”

The Turkish armed forces set up an air corridor to enable search and rescue teams to reach the zone affected by the quakes, the country’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Feb 6.

Turkiye sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. In 1999, about 18,000 people were killed in powerful quakes that hit northwestern Turkiye.

Countries around the world, including China, have dispatched teams to assist in the rescue efforts, but their efforts have been impeded by frigid temperatures and close to 200 aftershocks.

The European Union has mobilized search and rescue teams to help Turkiye, and the United States is coordinating assistance to the country, including teams to support search and rescue efforts. The Israeli army also sent a search and rescue team of 150 engineers, medical personnel and aid workers to Turkiye.

Russia has sent rescue teams to Syria, and Russian military forces in Syria sent 300 personnel to help with search and rescue work.

China’s assistance, meanwhile, is coming in a number of ways, including sending a first tranche of 40 million yuan ($5.9 million) in emergency aid to Turkiye, Deng Boqing, deputy head of the China International Development Cooperation Agency, said on Feb 7.

A medical team will be sent to Turkiye as quickly as possible, and disaster relief supplies urgently needed by the country will also be provided, Deng added.

The Chinese government will continue to provide assistance to Turkiye and Syria according to the development of the situation and the two nations’ needs, Deng said. The Red Cross Society of China will send its sister organizations in Turkiye and Syria $200,000 each to help with disaster relief and rescue operations, while Chinese communities in the two nations are collecting relief supplies such as tents and blankets.

At the request of the Turkish government, China has sent its official rescue team to the country, according to the Ministry of Emergency Management. The 82-member team left Beijing Capital International Airport for Turkiye around 4 pm on Feb 7.

A civilian rescue NGO from Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, has sent a team of eight experts who are highly experienced in international rescue missions.

India and South Korea were also among the long and growing list of nations to send rescuers and supplies to Turkiye and Syria.

On Feb 7, Reuters quoted Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay as saying that severe weather is making it difficult to bring aid to the affected regions.

Media reports have said earlier that the tremors affected some 13.5 million people in the country.

In areas where rescue teams worked, occasional cheers broke out as survivors were brought out of the rubble. Thousands of people in the province sheltered in sports centers or fair halls, while others spent the night outside, huddled in blankets around fires.

In Turkiye, a navy ship docked on Feb 7 at Hatay Province’s port of Iskenderun, where a hospital collapsed, to transport survivors in need of medical care to the nearby city of Mersin. Thick, black smoke rose from another area of the port, where firefighters struggled to douse a fire that broke out among shipping containers that were toppled by the earthquake.

A Level-4 alarm has been issued by the Turkish government, requesting international assistance.

In northwest Syria, 4.1 million people rely on humanitarian assistance, mostly women and children.

A cholera outbreak is already affecting Syrian communities, coupled with the harsh winter weather. 

The earthquake that rocked Turkiye and Syria was the biggest recorded worldwide by the US Geological Survey since one in the remote South Atlantic in August 2021.

On Feb 7, Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 provinces of Turkiye hit by massive quakes. The decision was taken to ensure that search and rescue activities and subsequent studies can be carried out quickly, he said at a news conference.

Earlier, on Feb 6, the Turkish president declared seven days of national mourning for the victims.

After the quakes, Chinese embassies and consulates in Turkiye and Syria immediately activated their emergency response mechanisms to comprehensively verify the security situation of Chinese compatriots, Chinese-funded institutions and personnel, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Feb 7.

“So far, no Chinese casualties have been reported,” Mao said at a daily news briefing.

The Feb 6 quake was the deadliest in Turkiye since one of similar magnitude in 1999 that killed more than 17,000.

Across the border in Syria, the quake has piled more misery on a country that has seen tremendous suffering over the past decade due to a civil war.

Zou Shuo and agencies contributed to this story.

Contact the writers at houliqiang@chinadaily.com.cn

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