Turkiye quake death toll passes 33,000

ANKARA, 13 Feb 2023:

The death toll from earthquakes that struck part of Turkiye and Syria surpassed 33,192 yesterday, as Ankara vowed to pursue contractors linked to deadly building collapses.

UN aid chief Martin Griffith has warned the death toll could “double or more” during a visit to Turkiye’s worst-hit province of Kahramanmaras.

“I think it is difficult to estimate precisely as we need to get under the rubble but I’m sure it will double or more,” he told Sky News on Saturday. “That’s terrifying. This is nature striking back in a really harsh way.”

In Turkiye, some 29,605 deaths and more than 80,000 injuries have been recorded so far, according to Turkish disaster authority AFAD – making the two earthquakes that hit the southeastern part of the country last Monday the deadliest since 1939.

Meanwhile, survivors continued to be found. An eight-year-old was rescued from the rubble in the Nurdagi town in the province of Gaziantep, 155 hours after the quake.

A child was pulled alive in the southeastern Turkish province of Hatay after 150 hours under the rubble, two hours before two sisters aged, 22 and 28, were saved in Adiyaman city.

A 12-year-old Syrian boy also survived after being trapped under the rubble of a collapsed building in Hatay for 147 hours.

In war-ravaged Syria, at least 3,575 people have died and around 5,300 were injured. Syrian victims are mostly registered in rebel-controlled northwestern areas, where the White Helmets civil defence force ended rescue efforts on Saturday.

“We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria. They rightly feel abandoned. Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived,” Griffiths wrote on Twitter yesterday. “My duty and our obligation is to correct this failure as fast as we can. That’s my focus now.”

The White Helmets, which works in opposition-held areas, said the death toll in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo had risen to 2,167 with over 2,950 injured. Another 1,408 people died and 2,341 others were wounded in areas controlled by the government of president Bashar al-Assad.

According to the official Syrian news agency Sana, a convoy of three trucks carrying humanitarian assistance sent by Italy for those affected by the earthquakes has arrived in Syria through its land border with Lebanon.

“Three trucks arrive at Jdeidet Yabous border crossing loaded with Italian relief aid that arrived yesterday at Beirut International Airport,” Sana said in a post to Twitter, giving no further details.

The Syrian Red Crescent, meanwhile, tweeted: “The first ever European shipment of assistances reached #Syria today.”

The first earthquake hit early last Monday with a 7.7-magnitude, followed by another 7.6-magnitude quake, with hundreds of aftershocks registered since the first tremor, according to Turkish disaster authority AFAD.

So far, more than 110 arrest warrants have been issued after the Turkish prosecutor’s office launched a special unit to investigate alleged construction negligence after more than 6,000 buildings were toppled by the quakes, Oktay said.

At least 14 people, including constructors, have been detained after buildings collapsed in the provinces of Gaziantep and Sanliurfa.

The justice ministry said it was crucial to gather evidence and impose precautionary measures on suspects to prevent them from fleeing the country.

On Friday, the police arrested a Turkish constructor of a residential building that collapsed with more than 100 people in Hatay at an Istanbul airport as he was trying to flee to Montenegro.

Renaissance Residence was one of the most exclusive buildings in Hatay’s capital Antakya. It was built in 2013 and advertised as “an image of paradise”.

In another investigation, prosecutors have ordered the arrest of 33 people in Diyarbakir for negligence after removing pillars to make more space in homes, impacting the structural resistance of buildings.

The arrests came after mounting criticism and anger towards president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government with citizens saying more could have been done to manage the disaster and save more lives.

The brewing anger could be pivotal in the looming May presidential elections where Erdogan will be seeking a third term.