ANTAKYA, Turkey, Feb 8, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan on Wednesday conceded "shortcomings" after criticism of his
government's response to the massive earthquake that killed over 11,700 people
in Turkey and Syria.
The sprawling scale of the disaster that flattened thousands of buildings,
trapping an unknown number of people, has swamped relief operations already
hampered by freezing weather.
Survivors have been left to scramble for food and shelter -- and in some
cases watch helplessly as their relatives called for rescue, and eventually
went silent under the debris.
"My nephew, my sister-in-law and my sister-in-law's sister are in the
ruins. They are trapped under the ruins and there is no sign of life," said
Semire Coban, a kindergarten teacher, in Turkey's Hatay.
"We can't reach them. We are trying to talk to them, but they are not
responding... We are waiting for help. It has been 48 hours now," she said.
Still, searchers kept pulling survivors from the debris three days after
the 7.8 magnitude quake that is already one of the deadliest this century, even
as the death toll continues to rise.
As criticism mounted online, Erdogan visited one of the hardest-hit spots,
quake epicentre Kahramanmaras, and acknowledged problems in the response.
"Of course, there are shortcomings. The conditions are clear to see. It's
not possible to be ready for a disaster like this," he said.
Twitter was also not working on Turkish mobile networks, according to AFP
journalists and NetBlocks web monitoring group.
- Children saved -
The window for rescuers to find survivors is narrowing as the effort nears
the 72-hour mark that disaster experts consider the most likely period to save
Yet on Wednesday, rescuers pulled children from under a collapsed building
in the hard-hit Turkish province of Hatay, where whole stretches of towns have
"All of a sudden we heard voices and thanks to the excavator... immediately
we heard the voices of three people at the same time," said rescuer Alperen
"We are expecting more of them... the chances of getting people out of here
alive are very high," he added.
Officials and medics said 9,057 people had died in Turkey and 2,662 in
Syria from Monday's 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the total to 11,719 -- but
that could yet double if the worst fears of experts are realised.
The World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned
that time was running out for the thousands injured and those still feared
- 'People dying every second' -
Due to the scale of the damage and the lack of help coming to certain
areas, survivors said they felt alone in responding to the disaster.
"Even the buildings that haven't collapsed were severely damaged. There are
now more people under the rubble than those above it," a resident named Hassan,
who did not provide his full name, said in the rebel-held town of 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
The White Helmets, leading efforts to rescue people buried under rubble in
rebel-held areas of Syria, have appealed for international help in their "race
They have been toiling since the quake to pull survivors out from under the
debris of dozens of flattened buildings in northwestern areas of war-torn Syria
that remain outside the government's control.
"International rescue teams must come into our region," said Mohammed
Shibli, a spokesperson for the group known formally as the Syria Civil Defence.
"People are dying every second; we are in a race against time," he told AFP
from neighbouring Turkey.
- Syria appeals for EU help -
The issue of aid to Syria was a delicate one, and the sanctioned government
in Damascus made an official plea to the EU for help, the bloc's commissioner
for crisis management Janez Lenarcic said.
A decade of civil war and Syrian-Russian aerial bombardment had already
destroyed hospitals, collapsed the economy and prompted electricity, fuel and
The European Commission is "encouraging" EU member countries to respond to
Syria's request for medical supplies and food, while monitoring to ensure that
any aid "is not diverted" by President Bashar al-Assad's government, Lenarcic
Dozens of nations, including the United States, China and the Gulf States
have pledged to help, and search teams as well as relief supplies have already
A winter storm has compounded the misery by rendering many roads -- some of
them damaged by the quake -- almost impassable, resulting in traffic jams that
stretch for kilometres in some regions.
The European Union was swift to dispatch rescue teams to Turkey after the
massive earthquake struck the country on Monday close to the border with Syria.
But it initially offered only minimal assistance to Syria through existing
humanitarian programmes, because of EU sanctions imposed since 2011 on Assad's
government over its brutal crackdown on protesters that spiralled into a civil
The Turkey-Syria border is one of the world's most active earthquake zones.
Monday's earthquake was the largest Turkey has seen since 1939, when 33,000
people died in the eastern Erzincan province.
In 1999, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake killed more than 17,000.