Earthquake in Turkey: “We hear screams”

Earthquake in Turkey: “We hear screams”

The willingness to help in Turkey is enormous after the earthquake. Rescue measures have started – but the cold increases the time pressure.

A large plume of smoke drifts past a collapsed house

Collapsed buildings in the port city of İskenderun in Turkey’s Hatay province Photo: Burak Kara/getty images

Several men are lying on their stomachs in front of the remains of what used to be a ten-story house. They listen to the calls from inside the mountain of rubble. “We hear the screams, but we can’t do anything,” shouts one. Another says: “There are no rescue workers, no rescue workers, no soldiers, nobody. This place is deserted from all help”.

The scene from the city of Antakya in the Turkish province of Hatay spread on social networks on Tuesday. The nearby airport has been destroyed and many roads are no longer passable. The city with around 200,000 inhabitants has that Monday morning earthquake probably the hardest hit. Many of the approximately 100,000 Syrian refugees in and around Antakya have also died.

Why, desperate relatives asked on Monday evening, didn’t the state send the navy to bring relief supplies and search teams to the region? The first helpers arrived in Hatay on Tuesday. In the morning, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a state of emergency for Hatay and nine other provinces. The ten most affected cities in Turkey, including Antakya, have been declared disaster areas. This creates the basis for soldiers to be able to advance in large numbers.

But for many who initially survived the collapse of their homes under the rubble, the military may be too late. Tuesday night was the coldest this winter in south-eastern Turkey. Temperatures dropped to minus five degrees. People buried under rubble are unlikely to have survived a second night in the cold after the disaster, which began at 4am Monday morning. However, it is still too early to give up, says Marten Mylius, emergency aid coordinator at the aid organization Care, to the taz on Tuesday afternoon. “Miracles keep happening.”

Up to 20,000 dead

There are no figures on how many people were buried under their houses, said the coordinator of the German Red Cross, Charlotte von Lenthe. But pictures of the destruction suggest that there must be many thousands. In Antakya alone, 890 dead had been counted by Tuesday afternoon. A total of between 5,000 and 6,000 people had been found dead in Turkey and Syria by Tuesday afternoon. Aid organizations fear that number could multiply; Experts expect up to 20,000 dead.

He has been working in emergency relief for twenty years, but Monday’s earthquake was a special disaster for him, says Mylius. On the one hand, there is an excellent aid infrastructure in the Turkish-Syrian border area with offices, employees who have already been on site, and warehouses with aid supplies such as blankets or hygiene kits. On the other hand, this also means that the emergency workers themselves are affected. “Our helpers are standing on the street in the snow, our offices and warehouses are partially damaged. The helpers are themselves in the middle of the disaster.”

Just contact with the employees on site is difficult. Phones went off because there was no electricity. In addition, roads are impassable, airports are damaged and hotels are in danger of collapsing. “A long list of problems,” says Mylius.

Despite the difficulties, several thousand people were rescued by the Turkish civil protection agency Afad. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca spoke of around 8,000 rescued on Monday evening. In particular, these successful rescues can be seen on the pro-government TV channels, while the Internet is full of scenes like the one in Antakya.

Big wave of solidarity rolled out

A wave of solidarity has rolled across all party, religious and ethnic boundaries. In Istanbul, Izmir and the other major cities in the country, collection points have been set up by private initiators, but also by city administrations. Entire neighborhoods are delivering warm clothing, coal stoves, blankets, bandages, or whatever else might be needed in droves. If you don’t want to go to a collection point, you can drop off a sack of clothing or blankets at any post office.

The lines in front of the blood donation stations in Istanbul are so long that people are asked to make an appointment for the following days. When it became known that there were not enough helpers in the disaster area, thousands of mostly young men drove to the airport in Istanbul to travel to the crisis area. However, there are too few flights and intact airports in the region. Most helpers end up in Adana. The city is also affected, but is on the edge of the disaster area.

The international disaster relief workers – the first came from Israel and Greece – also landed in Adana on Tuesday. From there, however, it is difficult to advance further east because of the destruction of roads and bridges. The size of the affected region is one of the main difficulties. If you include the devastated areas in Syria, around 23 million people could be affected by the quake, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

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