New Delhi: The death toll from Monday’s major earthquake in Turkey and Syria is likely to rise eight-fold as rescuers find more victims in the rubble, the World Health Organisation has warned.
The toll, which currently stands at more than 4000 people, has increased rapidly since the first earthquake struck early on Monday morning.
“There’s continued potential of further collapses to happen so we do often see in the order of eight fold increases on the initial numbers,” the WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe Catherine Smallwood said.
“We always see the same thing with earthquakes, unfortunately, which is that the initial reports of the numbers of people who have died or who have been injured will increase quite significantly in the week that follows,” Smallwood added.
Smallwood added that the snowy conditions will leave many people without shelter, adding to the dangers.
“For other people who can’t go back to their homes they will be meeting and gathering in collective environments. And that will also pose particular risks if they’re not well catered for, if there’s no heating, but also due to overcrowding,” said Smallwood.
One such risk would be circulation of respiratory viruses, she explained.
Rescuers have been combing through mountains of rubble in freezing and snowy conditions to find survivors.
Many countries around the world, including India, are sending support to help the rescue efforts, including specialist teams, sniffer dogs and equipment.
This morning, India dispatched the first batch of earthquake relief material to Turkey aboard an Indian Air Force aircraft hours after the announcement made by the Prime Minister’s Office.
A team of NDRF personnel along with a specially-trained dog squad, an array of medical supplies, advanced drilling equipment, and other crucial tools required for the aid efforts departed from Hindon Airbase in Ghaziabad for Turkey.
Survivors cried out for help from within mountains of debris through the frigid night into Tuesday as first responders contended with rain and snow. Seismic activity continued to rattle the region, including another jolt nearly as powerful as the initial quake. Workers carefully pulled away slabs of concrete and reached for bodies as desperate families waited for news of loved ones.
Tens of thousands who were left homeless in Turkey and Syria faced a night in the cold. In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, a provincial capital about 33 kilometers (20 miles) from the epicenter, people took refuge in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centers. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared seven days of national mourning.
US President Joe Biden called Erdogan to express condolences and offer assistance to the NATO ally. The White House said it was sending search-and-rescue teams to support Turkey’s efforts.
The quake, which was centered in Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, sent residents of Damascus and Beirut rushing into the street and was felt as far away as Cairo.
It piled more misery on a region that has seen tremendous suffering over the past decade. On the Syrian side, the area is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is home to millions of refugees from the civil war.
In the rebel-held enclave, hundreds of families remained trapped in rubble, the opposition emergency organization known as the White Helmets said in a statement. The area is packed with some 4 million people displaced from other parts of the country by the war. Many live in buildings that are already wrecked from military bombardments.
Strained medical centers quickly filled with injured people, rescue workers said. Some facilities had to be emptied, including a maternity hospital, according to the SAMS medical organization.
More than 7,800 people were rescued across 10 provinces, according to Orhan Tatar, an official with Turkey’s disaster management authority.
The region sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 were killed in similarly powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkey in 1999.
The US Geological Survey measured Monday’s quake at 7.8, with a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles). Hours later, a 7.5 magnitude temblor, likely triggered by the first, struck more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.
The second jolt caused a multistory apartment building in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa to topple onto the street in a cloud of dust as bystanders screamed, according to video of the scene.
Thousands of buildings were reported collapsed in a wide area extending from Syria’s cities of Aleppo and Hama to Turkey’s Diyarbakir, more than 330 kilometers (200 miles) to the northeast.
In Turkey alone, more than 5,600 buildings were destroyed, authorities said. Hospitals were damaged, and one collapsed in the city of Iskenderun.
With inputs from agencies
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