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Turkey-Syria earthquake: Total death toll passes 20,000

February 9, 2023

Freezing conditions have deepened the misery for survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria earlier this week. DW has the latest.

Rescuers look for survivors beneath rubble of collapsed building in Turkey
The death toll from a deadly earthquake rose to 16,800 on Thursday as rescue operations continuedImage: Kamran Jebreili/AP/picture alliance

The death toll from the earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria earlier this week rose to more than 20,000 on Thursday, as rescuers scrambled for survivors trapped beneath the rubble in freezing winter conditions.

The quake was one of the deadliest across the world in more than a decade, with more than 17,134 confirmed deaths in Turkey and another 3,162 in Syria.

Syria: Arduous rescue efforts after quake

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the city of Gaziantep, where 944 of over 6,400 buildings were destroyed.

The Turkish government admitted on Wednesday that the country's disaster response could have been better.

Access to Twitter in the country — throttled following a flurry of online criticism of authorities — was restored early on Thursday after talks between the company and Turkish officials.

Meanwhile, the first UN convoy carrying aid to Syrians crossed over the border from Turkey.

Here are other updates on the aftermath of the deadly earthquake on Thursday, February 9:

US announces $85 million in aid to Turkey and Syria

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) said an initial $85 million (€79 million) package for emergency relief would go to partners working on the ground in Turkey and Syria. 

The funding is to help with food deliveries, support safe drinking water and offer shelter and emergency health services.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier spoke on the phone with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, to discuss Turkey's needs.

"We are proud to join the global efforts to help Turkey just as Turkey has so often contributed its own humanitarian rescue experts to so many other countries in the past," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters as he described the call.

US aid to Syria, meanwhile, will go through local partners. Washington has refused to deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and demanded accountability over abuses during the brutal civil war.

Building laws not the issue in Turkey, says engineer

The deaths and destruction caused by the powerful earthquake that hit Turkey on Monday raised questions on whether its aftermath could've been limited with better construction standards

Building laws in Turkey were changed after the 1999 major earthquake to ensure resistance to such catastrophes. 

Yasemin Aktas, an engineer specializing in the effects of earthquakes on buildings at the University College London, told DW that Turkey's existing building standards were not the cause of the devastation that the earthquake wreaked. 

"I don't think the issue here is the building codes. They weren't in 1999 and they are not now," she said.  

Aktas said she saw three main issues at hand: building designs that are not in line with the existing codes, contractors not implementing the codes after construction or, most commonly, post-occupancy modifications. 

"Starting from the design all the way to post-occupancy stages, things can and go wrong... Unfortunately, this is the issue rather than the building codes," she said. 

Aktas also noted that so-called damage mechanisms could have played a role.

"How you actually design buildings is that you allow the building to undergo some damage, but in a way that is not going to compromise the stability and therefore won't lead to life losses," she explained. 

"I can tell that from what we are observing, we can definitely say safely that the buildings were not ready." 

World Bank announces $1.78 billion in aid to Turkey

World Bank President David Malpass said the Washington-based development lender would provide Turkey with $1.78 billion (€1.66 billion) in aid for relief and recovery efforts. 

"We are providing immediate assistance and preparing a rapid assessment of the urgent and massive needs on the ground," Malpass said in a statement.

"This will identify priority areas for the country's recovery and reconstruction as we prepare operations to support those needs," he added.

The World Bank said the aid would be used for "rebuilding basic infrastructure."

The bank added that it would offer Turkey immediate assistance of  $780 million.

Greece delivers aid to longtime foe Turkey 

Greece's Civil Protection Ministry said Athens planned to send to Turkey 80 tons of assistance including tents, beds and blankets.

Part of the aid arrived on commercial flights at the Turkish airport of Adana. The assistance operation is expected to conclude by Friday. 

"We have brought medicines, medical supplies and essentials to relieve a bit the pain of quake-afflicted people," said Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides, who escorted the package to Adana. 

"It's time we all show our feelings of humanism," Stylianides added.

Greece and Turkey have been mired for decades in tensions over territorial rights in the Aegean Sea and migration, among other flashpoints. 

But rivalry aside, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Erdogan on Monday to offer his condolences after the deadly earthquake. 

On Thursday, Mitsotakis said at an EU leaders meeting in Brussels that Athens would be at the forefront of an EU-wide initiative to host a donor conference aimed at securing funds for rebuilding efforts. 

UN chief pushes for more aid access to Syria

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for further access to northwestern Syria from Turkey for aid. 

"Many non-UN relief agencies are already delivering through other crossings," Guterres told reporters. "I will be very happy if, in relation to the UN, there will be the possibility to do it also in as many crossings as possible."

The UN has been allowed to deliver aid to northwest Syria from Turkey under a Security Council mandate first established in 2014. 

The mandate, which is subject to annual renewal, is currently restricted to using just one border crossing. 

"I will be, of course, very happy if the Security Council could reach a consensus to allow for more crossings to be used," Guterres said .

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said UN officials would start talks with Security Council members to see if the access could be expanded.

UK to continue to support Turkey and Syria — foreign minister

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said that the UK will continue to support Turkey and Syria.

"We will continue working with the Turkish authorities to find out what more they need, and we will continue coordinating through the United Nations and the White Helmets civil force in Syria," he said at a news conference in Rome alongside Italian counterpart Antonio Tajani.

"Of course, the situation in Syria, for obvious reasons, is considerably harder and more complicated, but nevertheless, there are lives that need to be saved," he said.

France pledges €12 million in aid

France has pledged €12 million ($12.9 million) in emergency aid to Syrians.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Delmas said that the aid would be disbursed through "non-governmental organizations and the United Nations in all regions affected."

Delmas said that the aid would include €5 million for a UN fund providing cross-border aid to northwestern Syria. Another €5 million would go to French and international NGOs.

The final €2 million are "under review" for urgent food aid.

Delmas said that the aid would not change Paris' "political approach" to Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria.

7 Italians missing following earthquake

Seven Italian citizens are missing following the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said at a news conference.

EU leaders vow support for Turkey

The 27 leaders of the European Union expressed solidarity with Turkey in a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The bloc's leaders said that the people of Turkey are "experiencing a harrowing ordeal" and vowed to "stand ready to further step up" support for the country.

"Our thoughts continue to be with the families who have lost loved ones and those still awaiting news," European Council President Charles Michel tweeted.

Germany to send aid flight to Turkey

The German Press Agency (dpa) reported that the German Air Force was preparing Airbus A400M aircraft for humanitarian aid flights to Turkey on Thursday morning.

The aircraft were scheduled to take off before noon local time (1100 GMT) from the Wunstorf base in the northwestern state of Lower Saxony, according to the air force.

Seven trucks have brought about 50 tons of relief supplies from the city of Ulm in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg to the military airport. They were packed with almost 2,000 camp beds, as well as sleeping bags, blankets, tents, heaters and sleeping mats.

Aid convoy arrives in Syria

An aid convoy has reached northwestern Syria, news agencies said citing border crossing sources.

A correspondent for Agence France-Press (AFP) reported seeing six trucks passing through the crossing from Turkey, carrying tents and hygiene products.

Syrians need 'more of absolutely everything' — UN envoy

UN special envoy Geir Pedersen said that Syrians impacted by the earthquake need "more of absolutely everything."

"We need to do everything to make sure that there are no impediments whatsoever to the life-saving support that is needed in Syria," Pedersen said.

He said that the UN had received assurances that aid would reach northwestern Syria on Thursday and demanded that aid not be "politicized."

"We were assured today that we would be able to get through the first assistance today" through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, the envoy said.

"Our immediate asks are two: access and resources. We need life-saving aid. It's desperately needed by civilians, wherever they are, irrespective of borders and boundaries," Pedersen said.

"We need it urgently, through the fastest, most direct and most effective routes," he said.

Aid trucks headed for Syria's northeast

United Nations sources say six trucks carrying international relief supplies are due to arrive in northwestern Syria on Thursday.

The trucks — the first convoy of humanitarian help for people in that affected area — are set to use the only remaining open Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey. 

Until now, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that partially repaired roads were too badly damaged to use. 

Even before the earthquake, the crossing was a lifeline for some 4.5 million people. Some 90% of the population in the region was already dependent on humanitarian help.

The German government's human rights commissioner, Luise Amtsberg, has called for the opening of more border crossings to Syria. 

At the behest of Damascus and Moscow, only the Bab al-Hawa frontier post has been open for aid deliveries to Syria for years. Helping victims in Syria, a country still in a state of civil war, is proving more difficult than in Turkey and is diplomatically delicate.

"We have to make it clear that the Assad regime and Russia can now show that the plight of the people is more important to them than political calculations," said Amtsberg. 

Summary of Turkey-Syria earthquake events on Wednesday

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country is working to open two additional border gates to Syria to enable humanitarian aid into the war-torn country.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said a donor conference for international aid for Syria and Turkey in the wake of Monday's devastating earthquake has been planned for March.

For the first time in 24 years, the Istanbul stock exchange announced that it is closing for five days in response to the earthquake.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who visited the disaster area, acknowledged "shortcomings" in his country's response to the huge earthquake.

The sanctions-hit Syrian government has put in an official request to the EU for emergency assistance through the civil protection mechanism, the bloc's commissioner for crisis management has said.

dh, sdi/wd,es,jcg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)