The death toll from a massive earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria has risen above 11,200 as rescuers raced to save survivors trapped under debris in the winter cold.
Officials and medics said 8,574 people had died in Turkey and 2,662 in Syria from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the total to 11,236.
Nearly 50,000 people were also injured in Turkey and another 5,000 in Syria, officials and rescuers on both sides said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave an update on the casualty figures during a visit to Kahramanmaras, a southern Turkish city at the epicentre of the initial quake.
Television images showed him hugging a weeping, elderly woman and walking through a large crowd towards a Red Crescent humanitarian relief tent.
Facing a tough May 14 re-election, Erdogan pledged to rebuild the damaged regions within a year.
He also appeared to push back against criticism that the government’s response to Turkey’s worst disaster in decades has been slow.
“Initially there were issues at airports and on the roads, but today things are getting easier and tomorrow it will be easier still,” he said in televised remarks.
“We have mobilised all our resources,” he added. “The state is doing its job.”
Syria on Wednesday made an official plea to the EU for help, the bloc’s commissioner for crisis management said.
The European Commission is “encouraging” EU member countries to respond to Syria’s request for medical supplies and food, said the commissioner, Janez Lenarcic.
It would also closely monitor the use of any aid given to ensure “it is not diverted” by the sanctioned government in Damascus, he said.
The European Union was swift to dispatch rescue teams to Turkey after the massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country on Monday close to the border with Syria.
But it initially offered only minimal assistance to Syria through existing humanitarian programmes, because of EU sanctions imposed since 2011 on the government of President Bashar al-Assad over its brutal crackdown on protesters that spiralled into a civil war.
Nevertheless, it said the door was open for Syria’s government to ask for quake assistance.
Now that Damascus has made that move, through the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism that coordinates aid, Lenarcic said the commission was asking European countries “to respond favourably to this request”.
The participants in the EU mechanism comprise the 27 EU countries plus eight neighbouring non-EU nations that include Norway and Turkey.
Syria was asking for “a long list of items”, Lenarcic said.
“They need assistance in the efforts of their own rescue services in search and rescue of people who are trapped under the rubble. They need many medical items and medicines and medical equipment. They need food items and the like — typical emergency aid items,” he said.
“It is also important to ensure – and I would like to underline this – that this assistance goes to people who need it, that it is not diverted. This is something that we will watch,” he said.
The EU sanctions on Syria target members of the regime, the military and prominent companies and businesspeople.
The EU commissioner said that “the humanitarian situation in Syria has been bleak for more than a decade and this latest earthquake has only aggravated this already dramatic humanitarian situation”.
Lenarcic said that as of Wednesday, 20 EU countries and three associated European nations had offered Turkey a total 1,500 rescue and medical personnel and 100 search-and-rescue dogs to look for quake survivors.
Story Credit: news.com.au