Following the huge earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria on February 6, Ankara said it would demolish the heavily damaged buildings and swiftly start a mammoth reconstruction effort, with thousands of families struggling to survive amid the rubble and freezing conditions.
Rescuers, who flew in to save people trapped in the debris, were starting to pack, although one woman was pulled out of a collapsed building on Wednesday after being buried for 222 hours.
In neighboring Syria’s northwest held by the opposition – an area that has already suffered from more than a decade of bombardment – the earthquake left many fending for themselves amid the rubble, with aid slowed by the complex politics of humanitarian assistance there.
The combined death toll in Turkey and Syria has exceeded 41,000, with millions in need of humanitarian aid. Numbers of survivors have been left homeless in near-freezing winter temperatures. Rescues have become rare and far between.
In the southern Turkish province of Hatay, 50 percent of the buildings have either collapsed, been heavily damaged, or need to be demolished quickly, the government said.
“We will quickly demolish what needs to be demolished and build safe houses,” Turkey’s Environment and Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum tweeted.
People were encouraged by the government to go back home, if and when authorities have deemed their building safe, “in order to start getting back to normal,” Tourism Minister Nuri Ersoy told a news conference in Malatya, some 160 km from the epicenter of the earthquake.
Drone footage showed destroyed and damaged buildings in the quakes-hit Hatay province of Türkiye
🔴LIVE updates here: https://t.co/rjJzOvo2mE pic.twitter.com/5L1IMG9Xan
— ANADOLU AGENCY (@anadoluagency) February 15, 2023
But relief efforts have not been going well in Syria – a country torn asunder by over a decade-long civil war. Despite a single border crossing from Turkey to Syria being opened after the quake, the U.N. did not send aid through for days, citing logistical issues.
“The situation is really tragic,” Abdulrahman Mohammad, a displaced Syrian originally from the neighboring province of Aleppo, said in Idlib, in the country’s northwest, where many had found refuge in the past decade from other war-torn provinces.
The parts of Syria hit the hardest by the earthquake were the rebel-held provinces of Idlib and adjacent Aleppo – a death toll of more than 5,800, according to the United Nations and government authorities.
“Anyone who is working as a laborer and renting a house… If you need USD 10 a day in expenses and you can barely get that – how are you supposed to rebuild?” Mohammad, originally from Aleppo, told Reuters.
Eight days after the quake, a second border crossing for aid delivery was opened on Tuesday after Syrian President Bashar al Assad gave his assent, marking a shift for Damascus which has long opposed cross-border aid deliveries to the rebel enclave.
Despite being desperately needed by rescuers to extract people from under the rubble and for reconstruction, the trucks included no heavy equipment or machines.
“What happened to us – it’s the first time it’s happened around the world. There was an earthquake and the international community and the U.N. didn’t help,” said Raed Saleh, who heads the ‘White Helmets’ rescue force operating in opposition-held areas.
Saleh and others in the northwest said more lives could have been saved in Syria if the outside world had acted faster.
In war-torn Idlib, Syrians pick up pieces alone after earthquake https://t.co/65Anxz2WFu pic.twitter.com/jEOcmvckMB
— Reuters (@Reuters) February 15, 2023
In Idlib, Walid Ibrahim lost more than two dozen of his family members – among them his brother, his cousin, and all their children.
No help arrived from outside Syria, people save their families and children themselves. #Idlib #earthquake #Syria pic.twitter.com/xOO55kOs5v
— عمر البم | Omar Al-Bam (@omar_albam) February 7, 2023
“We were removing rock after rock and finding nothing underneath. People were under the concrete screaming, ‘Get us out! Get us out!’ But we’d come up with empty hands,” he said. “Your hands alone aren’t enough.”
In Jandaris, located further to the north, rescuers said they had found no one alive under the rubble since February 9 but continued to search. Residents said there were still people trapped.
We confirmed earlier today this baby girl, miraculously pulled out alive from under the rubble where she was born, has survived. She was found still attached to her mother’s umbilical cord. Her hometown Jandaris is estimated to be 25% reduced to rubble. Neither parent survived pic.twitter.com/TnVEPBhSMo
— Abbie Cheeseman (@cheesemanab) February 7, 2023
Hassan Mohamed, a civil defense volunteer, said that while efforts to find survivors in the most badly hit areas in northwest Syria had finished, rescue workers were still deploying in response to reports of people missing. “We are also going to areas where there has been no internet,” he said.