Rescuers race to find survivors in Turkey and Syria as death toll climbs
Small children among thousands freed alive from the rubble
- More than 6,200 people have been killed in Turkey and neighbouring Syria.
- Turkey declares state of emergency for at least 3 months.
- Canada announces its first assistance for the rescue efforts.
- An aid worker with Doctors Without Borders was killed in Syria's Idlib province.
- Syria Red Crescent wants UN to help co-ordinate aid to rebel-held areas.
Search teams and international aid poured into Turkey and Syria on Tuesday as rescuers working in freezing temperatures and sometimes using their bare hands dug through the remains of buildings flattened by a powerful earthquake. The death toll soared above 6,200 and was still expected to rise.
But with the damage spread over a wide area, the massive relief operation often struggled to reach devastated towns, and voices that had been crying out from the rubble fell silent.
"We could hear their voices, they were calling for help," said Ali Silo, whose two relatives could not be saved in the Turkish town of Nurdagi. In the end, it was left to Silo, a Syrian who arrived a decade ago, and other residents to recover the bodies and those of two other victims.
The magnitude-7.8 quake early Monday cut a swath of destruction that stretched hundreds of kilometres. For the entire quake-hit area, that number of people directly affected could be as high as 23 million, according to Adelheid Marschang, a senior emergencies officer with the World Health Organization.
"This is a crisis on top of multiple crises in the affected region," Marschang said in Geneva.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that 70 countries had offered help for the search and rescue operation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would provide "$10 million in immediate aid" to Turkey," while Minister of International Development Harjit Sajjan said Canada is considering options for on the ground including medical and Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DART).
Turkey was declaring the 10 provinces affected by the devastating earthquakes as disaster zones, Erdogan said, imposing a state of emergency in the region for three months. In addition, hotels in the tourism hub of Antalya will be designated as temporary housing for people impacted by the quakes.
Nurgul Atay told The Associated Press she could hear her mother's voice beneath the rubble of a collapsed building in the city of Antakya, the capital of Hatay province, but efforts to get into the ruins had been futile without any heavy equipment.
"If only we could lift the concrete slab we'd be able to reach her," she said. "My mother is 70 years old, she won't be able to withstand this for long."
Thousands of rescues, ambassador says
Across Hatay, just southwest of the earthquake's epicentre, officials say as many as 1,500 buildings were destroyed. In areas where teams worked, occasional cheers broke out as survivors were brought out of the rubble.
"In this grim picture, there is a ray of hope, the silver lining, and that is our rescue teams have managed to save 8,000 citizens from under the rubble [so far]," Kerim Uras, Turkish ambassador to Canada, told CBC News on Tuesday.
WATCH | Rescuers search through rubble for survivors:
Turkey has large numbers of troops in the border region with Syria and has tasked the military with aiding in the rescue efforts, including setting up tents for the homeless and a field hospital in Hatay. Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said a humanitarian aid brigade based in Ankara and eight military search and rescue teams had also been deployed.
At Hatay's port of Iskenderun, thick, black smoke rose where firefighters have not yet been able to douse a fire that broke out among shipping containers that were toppled by the earthquake.
Turkey's emergency management agency said the total number of deaths in the country had passed 4,500, with some 26,000 people injured.
The death toll in government-held areas of Syria climbed over 800, with some 1,400 injured, according to the Health Ministry. At least 900 people have died in the rebel-held northwest, according to the White Helmets, the emergency organization leading rescue operations, with more than 2,300 injured.
The medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders confirmed Tuesday that one of its staff members was among the dead after his house in Syria's Idlib province collapsed, and that others had lost family members.
"We are very shocked and saddened by the impact of this disaster on the thousands of people touched by it, including our colleagues and their families," said Sebastien Gay, the group's head of mission in Syria.
Idlib won't be forgotten: Syrian official
Authorities fear the death toll will keep climbing as the rescuers look for survivors among tangles of metal and concrete spread across the region beset by Syria's 12-year civil war and refugee crisis.
In the city of Aleppo, a Maronite Christian convent opened its doors to hundreds of residents who fled their shaking homes.
"Based on our principles and ideas of receiving the most needy, we wanted to make sure that everybody who was scared or lost their house or was on the streets could find shelter here," said Brother George Sabah.
WATCH | Getting aid to war-torn Syria will be complicated, say experts:
Syria's Red Crescent said Tuesday it is ready to send relief aid to all the country's regions including opposition-held areas, and is urging the United Nation to help facilitate the deliveries.
"We do not differentiate between any of the Syrian people," the organization's president, Khaled Hboubati, said at a news conference.
"If they [the opposition] opened a road for us, we will go," Hboubati added. "We have no problem with this."
He appealed to the United Nations, which has long co-ordinated the aid and relief operations in opposition-held areas, to help.
After yesterday’s devastating earthquakes, we’re providing $10 million in immediate aid to the people of Türkiye and Syria – and we’ll continue to provide support as the situation evolves. Our partners are already distributing food, emergency fuel, and shelter items.—@JustinTrudeau
With files from Reuters