Turkey and Syria earthquake death toll tops 28,000; Turkey opposes some builders By Reuters


© Reuters. Seho Uyan, who survived the deadly earthquake but lost his four relatives, sits in front of a collapsed building in Adiyaman, Turkey, February 11, 2023. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar 2/8

Ali Kuchukgokmen and Maya Gebeyli

ANTAKYA, Turkey (Reuters) – Rescuers pulled several more survivors from the rubble on Sunday, six days after one of the worst earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, as Turkish authorities sought to maintain order in the disaster area and launched legal actions in connection with the collapse of some buildings.

As the chances of finding new survivors become increasingly remote, the death toll from Monday’s earthquake and major aftershocks in both countries topped 28,000 and looks set to continue to rise. It was the deadliest earthquake in Turkey since 1939.

Displaced residents in the Turkish town of Kahramanmaras, near the epicenter, said they had set up tents as close as possible to their damaged or destroyed homes to prevent them from being looted.

Faced with questions about his response to the quake as he prepares for what is expected to be the toughest nationwide election in his two decades in office, President Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to start rebuilding within weeks.

In Syria, the disaster hit the rebel-held northwest hardest, leaving many homeless for the second time after they were displaced by a decade-old civil war, although the region received little assistance compared to areas controlled by government.

“Until now we have let people down in northwest Syria,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths tweeted from the Turkish-Syrian border, where only one border crossing is open for UN aid supplies. “They rightly feel left out,” Griffiths said, adding that he is focused on getting the issue resolved quickly.

In the southeastern Turkish province of Hatay, a Romanian rescue team carried a 35-year-old man named Mustafa down a pile of rubble from a building, CNN Turk reported about 149 hours after he was buried in the earthquake.

“He is in good health, he talked,” said one of the rescuers. “He said, ‘Get me out of here quickly, I’m claustrophobic.’


Two German rescue organizations on Saturday suspended work in Turkey, citing reports of clashes between groups of people and highlighting safety concerns in earthquake-hit areas.

Gizem, a rescue worker from the southeastern province of Sanlıurfa, said she saw looters in the city of Antakya. “We can’t interfere much as most looters are armed with knives.”

An elderly resident of Kahramanmarash said that gold jewelry had been stolen from his house, and in the port city of Iskenderun, police had lined up many telephone and jewelry stores at the intersections of shopping streets.

Erdogan warned that looters would be severely punished.

The quality of construction in the country, located on several seismic fault lines, came under scrutiny after the earthquake.

Vice President Fuat Oktay said 131 suspects responsible for the collapse of some of the thousands of buildings demolished in 10 affected provinces have so far been identified.

“We will be monitoring this closely until the necessary litigation is completed, especially for buildings that have been heavily damaged and buildings that have resulted in loss of life and injury,” he said.

Along the main road leading to the city of Antakya, where a few surviving buildings had large cracks or collapsed facades, traffic sometimes came to a halt as rescuers called for silence to look for signs of remaining life beneath the ruins.

The earthquake occurred at a time when Erdogan was facing presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June. Even before the disaster, his popularity was falling due to the rapid growth of inflation and the sharp fall of the Turkish currency.

Some earthquake victims and opposition politicians blamed the government for slow and inadequate relief efforts from the start, and critics questioned why the army, which played a key role in the aftermath of the 1999 earthquake, had not been brought in sooner.

Erdogan acknowledged problems, such as the problem of delivering aid despite damaged transport routes, but said the situation was under control. He called for solidarity and condemned “negative” politicking.


In Syria, hostilities that have torn the country apart in 12 years of civil war are now hampering relief efforts.

Earthquake aid from government-controlled areas to territory controlled by radical opposition groups has been delayed over approval problems for the Islamist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which controls most of the region, according to a UN official.

An HTS source in Idlib told Reuters that the group would not allow any supplies from government-controlled areas and that aid would flow from Turkey to the north.

“Turkey has opened all roads and we will not let the regime take advantage of the situation to show that they are helping,” the source said.

A convoy carrying fuel and other aid from the Kurdish-led northeast region of Syria was also returned on Thursday from the northwest, where Turkish-backed rebels rule.

The European Union’s representative in Syria on Sunday urged Damascus authorities to “engage in good faith” with aid workers. “It is important to ensure that aid has unhindered access to all areas where it is needed,” Dan Stoenescu said.

The earthquake is considered the world’s seventh-deadliest natural disaster this century, with casualties approaching 31,000 in the 2003 earthquake in neighboring Iran.

It has killed 24,617 people in Turkey and more than 3,500 people in Syria, where casualty figures have not been updated since Friday.

Turkey reported that about 80,000 people are in hospitals, with more than 1 million in temporary shelters.

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