Seven pulled from Turkey’s rubble, millions need humanitarian aid


Ankara (Reuters) – Seven survivors were rescued from the rubble in Turkey on Tuesday, more than a week after a devastating earthquake, as the focus of the aid effort shifted to helping people now struggling without shelter or enough food in the bitter cold.

The disaster, with a combined death toll in Turkey and neighbouring Syria exceeding 37,000, has ravaged cities in both countries, leaving many survivors homeless in near-freezing winter temperatures.

The seven rescued on Tuesday included two brothers, aged 17 and 21, pulled from an apartment block in Kahramanmaras province, and a woman rescued from the rubble of a building in the southern Turkish city of Antakya, Turkish media said.

But U.N. authorities have said the rescue phase was coming to a close, with the focus turning to shelter, food and schooling, as those who survived were struggling.

“People are suffering a lot. We applied to receive tent, aid or something but until now we didn’t receive anything,” said Hassan Saimoua, a refugee staying with his family in a playground in Turkey’s southeastern city of Gaziantep.

Saimoua and other Syrians who had found refuge in Gaziantep from the war at home but were made homeless by the quake used plastic sheets, blankets and cardboard to erect makeshift tents in the playground.

“The needs are huge, increasing by the hour,” said Hans Henri P. Kluge, the World Health Organizations’s director for Europe. “Some 26 million people across both countries need humanitarian assistance.”

“There are also growing concerns over emerging health issues linked to the cold weather, hygiene and sanitation, and the spread of infectious diseases – with vulnerable people especially at risk.”

‘Dad, Aftershock!’

At a Turkish field hospital in the southern city of Iskenderun, Indian Army Major Beena Tiwari said patients initially reported physical injuries but that was changing.

“Now more of the patients are coming with post-traumatic stress disorder, following all the shock that they’ve gone through during the earthquake,” she said.

In Aleppo as well, a former frontline in Syria’s war, families who had to leave their homes are now dealing with the psychological aftermath of the quake.

“Whenever he forgets, he hears a loud sound and then remembers again,” Hassan Moaz said of his nine-year-old. “When he’s sleeping at night and hears a sound, he wakes up and tells me: Dad, aftershock!.”

Meanwhile, a first convoy of U.N. aid entered rebel-held northwest Syria from Turkey via the newly-opened Bab al-Salam crossing.

This comes after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed on Monday to allow U.N. aid to enter from Turkey via two more border crossings, marking a shift for Damascus which has long opposed cross-border aid deliveries to the rebel enclave.

Nearly nine million people in Syria were affected by the earthquake, the United Nations said, as it launched a $400 million funding appeal to help the situation there.

Survivors’ Exodus

The search for survivors was about to end in the north west of Syria, the head of the White Helmets main rescue group, Raed al Saleh, said.

Russia also said it was wrapping up its search and rescue work in Turkey and Syria and preparing to withdraw from the disaster zone.

The Turkish toll was 31,974 killed, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority said on Tuesday. More than 5,814 have died in Syria according to a Reuters tally of reports from Syrian state media and a U.N. agency.

Survivors joined a mass exodus from earthquake-hit zones, leaving their homes unsure if they can ever come back.

“It’s very hard … We will start from zero, without belongings, without a job,” said 22-year-old Hamza Bekry, a Syrian originally from Idlib who has lived in Antakya, in southern Turkey, for 12 years but prepared to follow his family to Isparta in southern Turkey.

He will become one of more than 158,000 people who have evacuated the vast swathe of southern Turkey hit by the quake, one of the deadliest tremors in the region’s modern history.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who faces an election scheduled for June that is expected to be the toughest of his two decades in power, acknowledged problems in the initial response but said the situation was now under control.

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