Turkey-Syria earthquake: More victims rescued alive after one week, as death toll surpasses 36,000


Feb 13, 2023

At least 36,000 people have been confirmed dead in Turkey and Syria following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck both countries one week ago. AFAD, Turkey’s disaster management authority, on Monday, said the death toll in Turkey stands at least 31,643. The White Helmet said at least 3,200 people had been confirmed dead in Northwest Syria, while the Government-controlled parts of the country have a death toll of 1,414. 

As of Monday afternoon, the smell of dead bodies under the rubbles reached its peak, affecting rescue operations. Despite the tough situation, efforts to find survivors have not ended, especially in Turkey. Between the 141st hours after the quake and the 184th hours, about 50 people have been safely brought out of the rubble. But after several hours of work, the “White Helmet” said it was done with the rescue operations. 

Rescue operations end in Northwest Syria

After several hours of work, the “White Helmet” in the rebel-controlled region of Syria said they are no longer searching for survivors. In a statement released by the group, it stated its achievement within the duration of the rescue operations.

“Our teams have conducted 108 hours of work in more than 40 cities, towns and villages in northwestern Syria, in which about 479 residential buildings were completely destroyed, and more than 1,481 buildings were partially destroyed,” the group stated. 

It added that at least 2,166 people died during this period with almost 3,000 injured. Since the end of the rescue operation, more deaths have been recorded, and there is no report of another successful rescue. But the situation in Turkey is quite different, as a few victims are being rescued, which many have described as ‘miracles.”

More miracle survivors in Turkey

The earthquake in Turkey has already surpassed one week. Despite that, there are some victims still being rescued alive. Rescue workers saved a 10-year girl from the rubble in the southern Turkish province of Kahramanmaras on Monday, 183 hours after last Monday’s earthquake, TRT news agency reported. At the time of this report, it was the longest-recorded rescue in Turkey.

One hour before the miraculous rescue, in Hatay, a 12-year-old girl was also rescued on Monday after spending 182 hours under the rubble. 

Five hours before that, another woman was rescued after 177 hours. In a picture shared on social media, Saadet Sendag, the woman’s son was seen celebrating after his mother was brought out alive. 

One hour before that, a 70-old woman, Nuray Gurbuz, was rescued from the rubble of a three-storey building that collapsed during Monday’s earthquake. At the time of her rescue, Gurbuz has spent a total of 178 hours underneath. 

Anadolu news agency reported on Monday that a young girl was rescued after 176 hours. The girl, Serap Donmez, was also rescued in the Hatay district, the most hit region of the quake. 

Other miraculous rescues include 40-year-old Sibel Kaya, who was brought out of the rubble in the Gaziantep province after 170 hours since the quake occurred. Erengul Onder, 60, was rescued after 166 hours and another man was rescued in hour 166 after the quake. 

At least 50 people have been rescued alive in Turkey within the last 24 hours, and many are wondering how these people managed to stay alive for that long.

How victims managed to stay alive under the rubble

The news that some victims of last Monday’s earthquake are still alive has been a surprise to many, including the rescue operators. 

Dr Malcolm Russel, a search and rescue expert in the UK, said two things could be responsible for such “miracles.” He said resilience and a measure of luck could be the reason why some victims are still breathing after several days beneath the rubble. 

“These stories are really incredible. We know that people can survive for an extraordinary amount of time,” Russell told Aljazeera. “What they need in an earthquake situation, I have to say there’s a degree of luck. They’d have to end up in an area – we would call it a survivable void space – it might not be big, but somewhere where they’re not physically crushed.” 

Mr Russell added that ending up at a place where there is access to water could help prolong the lives of the victims. 

“And no doubt an element to all this is emotional resilience, incredible resilience, retaining some hope. And in many cases, having the sense to continue to make noise because that noise can travel through the rubble pile, and we can use sensitive equipment to listen to that,” he added.

Did the world let down the people of Northwest Syria?

Since the earthquake struck last Monday, some people in Turkey have accused the government of responding too slowly to the disaster. However, the situation in Northwest Syria is quite different. They feel abandoned by the rest of the world. Survivors accused the international community of neglecting them simply because they are Syrians. 

“The whole world let the Syrian people down. If this destruction was in Europe or a foreign country, the whole world would have gathered to rescue those killed – but here, no one [cares],” Abdel-Monem Qassem al-Razouq, a survivor of the quake, said. 

“I am here to watch and remember, there are memories here. I see my sister’s dress, her son’s clothes and all of them. Their smell is here. When they remove everything I won’t come,” he added while standing beside the rubble.

Abdel-Monem Qassem al-Razouq, like most people in Northwest Syria, expressed displeasure over how the international community handled the situation. However, in the government-controlled region of the country, there is almost no dissent, as most of the aid supplied to Syria ended up there even though it was not the epicentre of the earthquake.

Martin Griffiths, the UN aid chief, admitted that the body and the world failed the people of Northwest Syria over how less attention was paid to the people in the region. 

“We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria. They rightly feel abandoned, looking for international help that hasn’t arrived. My duty and our obligation is to correct this failure as fast as we can,” Griffiths tweeted.

He added that the United Nations would provide the assistance needed to move such supplies across to the Northwestern part of the country. 

Looting for survival

Businesses in the Turkish city of Antakya have closed down after their shops were looted by survivors searching for daily bread and other thieves. Some shop owners have packed everything from their shops for fear that they would be invaded. Several supermarkets, pharmacies, electronic stores, and other businesses have been broken into, and there is no sufficient security personnel on the street to handle such minor cases when people are still under the rubble. 

Berkan Yogurtcuoglu, a store manager, said it was normal to loot businesses as aid and supplies did not arrive on time. 

“For the first few days, everybody looted supermarkets because they needed to. I looted a supermarket because I needed diapers for my kids,” Yogurtcuoglu said. 


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