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Death Toll in Turkey and Syria from Earthquake Tops 41,000


A man holds a cat he rescued from a building as rescuers extract the bodies of victims from collapsed buildings in Antakya, Turkey, on Feb. 15, 2023, nine days after a 7.8-magnitude struck the country.

The combined death toll in Turkey and Syria from last week’s powerful earthquake has now risen above 41,000, but a handful of people are still being rescued from the rubble.

On Wednesday, two women were pulled from the debris in Turkey's southern city of Kahramanmaras, and a mother and two children were rescued in Antakya nine days after the earthquake. The rescue in Antakya came 228 hours after the earthquake, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.

Millions of people who survived the quake need humanitarian aid, authorities say, with many survivors left homeless in near-freezing winter temperatures. Rescues are now few and far between.

With much of the region's sanitation infrastructure damaged or rendered inoperable by the earthquakes, health authorities are facing a daunting task in trying to ensure that people now remain disease-free.

Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said people in war-torn Syria also face new challenges.

Syrian men comfort each other in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, Feb. 15, 2023.
Syrian men comfort each other in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, Feb. 15, 2023.

After visiting Syria in the last few days, she said in a statement, “For more than a decade, people across Syria have experienced the devastation of armed conflict. When the 6 February earthquake struck the region, communities suffered dramatic levels of devastation no matter what side of the frontline they were on. Family and friends were killed, homes were destroyed, and people were displaced yet again. Medical care, safe drinking water, and reliable food supply sources immediately became crucial to survival."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that 35,418 people were killed in the 7.8 magnitude quake that struck near the southeastern city of Kahramanmaras on February 6, making it the deadliest earthquake in Turkish history.

The quake, which Erdogan called “the disaster of the century,” destroyed tens of thousands of buildings and rendered an equal number uninhabitable, leaving scores of residents without shelter from bitter winter temperatures. Authorities have arrested several building contractors and charged them with violating Turkey’s building codes.

The United Nations confirmed on Wednesday that three of their Turkish staff died in the earthquake.

Meanwhile, more than 5,500 deaths have been confirmed in neighboring Syria, according to figures compiled by the United Nations humanitarian agency and Syria’s state-run news agency. At least 1,400 people were killed in areas under government control, while another 4,400 are dead in Syria’s rebel-held northwest.

Relief effort scales up across Syria

Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations are trying to scale up operations in Syria to meet the massive needs.

The U.N. Population Fund’s regional director said that across Syria there are 40,000 women who are pregnant and due to give birth in the next three months.

“Many of the facilities that we visited are already depleted or damaged or both,” Laila Baker, UNFPA’s Arab States Regional Director told reporters by video from Aleppo. “There are stock outs of medications for treating very basic things like the flu, much less something as complicated as having a C[esarean]-section.”

She had just visited a maternity hospital in Aleppo, once a thriving metropolis, now scarred from 12 years of civil war and the earthquake. She said all the wards were full and the facility lacked basics, such as bed sheets. Exhausted staff were working 18-hour shifts trying to assist as many women as they could.

A health worker examines a boy affected by the earthquake inside a mobile clinic in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria, Feb. 14, 2023.
A health worker examines a boy affected by the earthquake inside a mobile clinic in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria, Feb. 14, 2023.

At makeshift shelters, many in mosques and schools, Baker said there are no toilets.

“For a woman, many of whom are pregnant, they are facing dire circumstances,” she said.

UNFPA launched an appeal on Tuesday for $24 million to cover immediate needs for the next three months.

Separately, 22 trucks from the World Food Program carrying canned food and mattresses, crossed Wednesday into northwest Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border point from Turkey. WFP has also been distributing ready-to-eat meals and other food items in government-controlled areas, including Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces. Also Wednesday, the International Organization for Migration delivered shelter and non-food items through the newly reopened Bab al-Salam crossing.

The United Nations says 117 trucks have crossed into the opposition-controlled northwest since aid started rolling on February 9.

On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launched a $397 million appeal for the earthquake response in Syria, adding that a similar appeal is being drawn up for Turkey.

The VOA Turkish Service and VOA United Nations Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report, which includes some information from The Associated Press and Reuters.