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Turkish gov’t under fire over failure to conduct efficient rescue efforts after powerful quakes

Earthquake victims try to look for their relatives in Hatay, the day after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country's southeast on February 7, 2023. Rescuers in Turkey and Syria braved frigid weather, aftershocks and collapsing buildings, as they dug for survivors buried by an earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people. Up to 23 million people could be affected by the massive earthquake that has killed thousands in Turkey and Syria, the WHO warned on Tuesday, promising long-term assistance. BÜLENT KILIÇ / AFP

Scores of people in Turkey who are trapped under the rubble after Monday’s major earthquakes are dying while waiting for help, opposition politicians and journalists have claimed, accusing the government of failing to conduct an efficient search and rescue operation.

A 7.8-magnitude quake, which struck near the Turkish city of Gaziantep – home to around 2 million people and on the border with Syria – as people were still sleeping on Monday, was followed by dozens of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude tremor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue work the same day.

A total of 3,432 people have been reported dead and more than 20,000 injured so far, according to figures announced by government officials.

Politicians and journalists, some of them reporting on the situation from the earthquake sites, have accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of failing to send search and rescue teams, soldiers or trained volunteers to some areas affected by the earthquakes nearly a day after the initial tremor.

Twenty-four hours after the first earthquake, social media users continue to announce regions and areas that have yet to see a sufficient number of search and rescue personnel, focusing in particular on the southern province of Hatay.

Workers Party of Turkey (TİP) vice chair and Hatay MP Barış Atay spoke about the situation in the city in a video released on the party’s Twitter account in the early hours of Tuesday that shows the lawmaker in front of collapsed buildings in İskenderun.

Atay said there were three pieces of construction equipment in the area that were brought by residents and that they were trying to search for their families on their own since there was no one from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) or law enforcement in the area.

“I really don’t know what to say. … Look, there is no [one doing] rescue work here. There is only excavation,” he added.

Journalist Ersan Kınık also said what they are faced with in İskenderun was “unbelievable” since there was no one from AFAD or any medical team in the district.

“The city has been completely abandoned to its fate. … People have brought shovels and are working as if they are doing excavations. There isn’t even a person in authority to convince people that rescue work can’t be done this way,” Kınık said.

TİP’s İstanbul MP Ahmet Şık on Tuesday told Halk TV he heard the first ambulance arrive in the Antakya district of Hatay three hours after he was able to go there around, at 2:30 a.m.

Şık said no search and rescue teams had been sent to the area by the government and that people were trying to do all the work themselves.

“Some 30-35 hours after the earthquake, there are still many people under the rubble, but there is no chance of intervention without … construction equipment. There is no state here. Antakya has been shattered, destroyed, and what remains under the rubble is the state itself,” Şık said.

Hatay Mayor Lütfü Savaş, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), also called for urgent help late on Monday, calling in to a program on Habertürk TV and saying that scores of people in the city are in danger of dying from hypothermia due to poor weather conditions if they don’t receive help as soon as possible.

Önder İşleyen from the Left Party (SOL Parti) also went to Hatay and invited everyone in a video to stand in solidarity with people in the city, saying they hear people’s voices coming from under the rubble but have no means to reach them and that there’s “no water, no blankets, no tents, nothing” to take care of people who are rescued.

Meanwhile, Hüseyin Duran from the Foundation of People from Adıyaman (Adıyamanlılar Vakfı) on Tuesday spoke to the Independent Turkish news website about the latest situation in the southeastern province, emphasizing that time is of the essence to save those under the rubble.

Duran explained that more than 30 hours have passed since the initial quake and that people who are now being pulled from under the rubble have frozen to death rather than having sustained fatal injuries from the earthquakes.



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