Earthquake in Turkey and Syria: News Updates

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Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

More than a week after a powerful earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, there were a few glimmers of hope on Tuesday after rescuers in Turkey defied the odds by digging three survivors out of the rubble and Syria’s authoritarian president, Bashar al-Assad, agreed for the first time in a 12-year civil war to open up more border crossings from Turkey so aid could flow into affected areas controlled by groups that oppose his government.

The combined death toll for the two countries rose further on Tuesday to nearly 36,000, along with the chaos, humanitarian challenges and finger pointing that have followed one of the deadliest disasters this century.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Death toll: The official death toll in Turkey stood at 31,974 on Tuesday. Syria’s toll had climbed to about 3,700.

  • Improbable rescues: Workers dug Muhammed Cafer Cetin, 18, from the rubble of a building 198 hours after the devastating quake, according to the Turkish State broadcaster TRT, making it the third improbable rescue of the morning. The conditions of the three survivors, all of whom were taken to a hospital, were unknown.

  • Criticism in Turkey: Critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seeking to defend his response to the disaster, drew attention to videos showing him having earlier hailed some of the housing projects that crumbled in the quake and buried thousands of people. The Turkish authorities also arrested more contractors, including one connected to a collapsed 16-story building in the city of Adana, where at least 70 people died.

  • More aid reaches Syria: A Saudi relief plane carrying 35 tons of food and other aid arrived at Aleppo International Airport in Syria on Tuesday morning, in a part of the divided country controlled by the government. Dozens of aid groups working in Syria urgently called for an increase in international support.

Walking over rubble in Sarmada, Idlib Province, on Sunday.
Credit…Emily Garthwaite for The New York Times

Humanitarian groups working in Syria called on Tuesday for an urgent and significant injection of aid into all parts of the country affected by a powerful earthquake more than a week ago, saying that unfettered access was essential to relieve the suffering of survivors.

Because no additional equipment and help were sent to northwestern Syria for days in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, local rescue teams had managed to search only 5 percent of the affected areas, a joint statement by 35 international and Syrian aid groups said.

“The potential survivors trapped under the rubble of the other 95 percent were not rescued in time,” it said. “The international community failed the Syrian people by not reacting fast enough.”

At least 3,700 people in Syria were killed by the magnitude-7.8 quake, according to figures from the government and one of the main local rescue groups. But the United Nations estimates the death toll in the country at more than 6,500, plus about 10,000 injured, the statement said. Nearly 32,000 people died in neighboring, with the toll still steadily rising.

“The humanitarian response must match the scale of the disaster,” the groups said in the statement.

In northwestern Syria, the earthquake’s damage spans two different zones of control in a country that has been carved up over 12 years of civil war: one held by the government of the authoritarian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the other by forces opposed to him.

The opposition side has received only a trickle of aid, in part because of the difficulties of getting access to the region. The government side, where outside relief has been coming in through major airports, tightly controls and restricts aid flows from its territory to the opposition side. And previously only one border crossing from Turkey was used for all United Nations aid flowing to the opposition-held side.

Mr. al-Assad has now agreed, for the first time since the war began, to allow two more border crossings from Turkey to be used temporarily to supply aid to opposition-controlled territory in the northwest.

The aid groups noted that millions of Syrians had lost their homes and were experiencing a new displacement after 12 years of war and trauma. The groups said they were “extremely concerned that the current level of response reaching the affected areas of Syria is nowhere near what is needed in the face of the devastation,” calling for a significant scale-up.

They also pointed to concerns over the growing number of unaccompanied children and the conditions in shelters and displaced-persons camps that are now full of people with no food, no water, no blankets and no heat.

On the government side, Abdul Qader Dawalibi, a local official in Aleppo, said in a telephone interview that 250,000 people had been left homeless in Aleppo alone, and that many shelters had opened in churches, schools and apartments. He said the government side needed more medicine, medical equipment and heavy equipment for engineers to help in demolishing uninhabited buildings and starting the reconstruction process.

Mr. al-Assad’s government has also called for a lifting of Western sanctions. “We need equipment for the engineers for the collapsed buildings” Mr. Dawalibi said, adding, “We don’t have spare parts because of the sanctions on us.”

“Homeless people need to be back home, but their homes need to be fixed and our capacity is very limited,” he said. “Dozens of buildings have been damaged from the quake, and every day we are facing the risk of more buildings collapsing.”

Heavy equipment digging through the rubble in Adiyaman, Turkey, on Saturday.
Credit…Emin Ozmen for The New York Times

The authorities in Turkey have arrested and charged at least nine contractors so far and detained scores of other people suspected of shoddy construction that violated building codes in the wake of a powerful earthquake that brought down tens of thousands of buildings in the south of the country last week.

Stricter building codes were put in place after a similar disaster in northwestern Turkey in 1999 killed more than 17,000 people. But residents have said that the codes were often not applied because contractors can earn more money when they cut corners: mixing the concrete and using cheaper metal bars to gird pillars, among other things.

Turkey’s death toll, nearly 32,000 now, is nearly twice the 1999 count and still rising, and experts have said that poor construction probably exacerbated the latest quake’s deadliness. The country’s justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, said on Sunday that legal proceedings against more than 130 people were underway over their suspected ties to collapsed buildings.

The minister of environment and urbanization, Murat Kurum, said on Monday that officials had tallied a total of 41,791 buildings that collapsed or sustained heavy damage, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Among those charged is Sukru Isitmen, a constructor of at least six collapsed buildings in the Besni district of Adiyaman Province. Mr. Isitmen, who was arrested in Adiyaman late Monday evening, is a member of the executive body of the district’s branch of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party.

Hasan Alpargun, the contractor of a collapsed 16-story building in Adana Province where at least 70 people have been killed, was arrested on Monday, the Anadolu news agency reported. He told a reporter from the Ihlas news agency while being taken to appear in court that he had not been negligent and that he was very remorseful.

“There is no building in Adana that is not damaged,” he said.

A contractor in Hatay Province, Omer Cihan, was arrested in the city of Antalya after the police found him in a five-star hotel that was hosting earthquake survivors, Anadolu reported. Another contractor from Hatay, Mustafa Erdogan Kececioglu, was arrested in Ankara, where he had been staying in a hotel.

Two contractors responsible for the construction of buildings that collapsed in the city of Adiyaman, Yavuz Karakus and Sevilay Karakus, were detained on Sunday at Istanbul Airport and were arrested the next day.


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