Rescue efforts continue in Turkey and Syria after deadly quakes

Rescue efforts continue as rescuers are working tirelessly to find survivors in the rubble of three provinces in Turkey and Syria that were hit hard by devastating earthquakes last week. The death toll from the magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes that struck nine hours apart on Feb. 6 in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria has surpassed 35,000 and is expected to rise as search teams continue to find more bodies.

Experts have warned that the window to find survivors is closing, and Turkish television continues to broadcast rescues. In Adiyaman province, rescuers managed to reach 18-year-old Muhammed Cafer Cetin, and medics gave him an IV with fluids before attempting a dangerous extraction from a building that crumbled further as rescuers were working.

Medics surrounded him to place a neck brace, and he was on a stretcher with an oxygen mask as he made his way out to daylight after 199 hours. “We are so happy,” said his uncle.

Two others were rescued from one building in central Kahramanmaras, near the epicenter, some 198 hours after the quake. Broadcaster Haberturk reported that one was 17-year-old Muhammed Enes, who was seen wrapped in a thermal blanket and carried on a stretcher to an ambulance. Dozens of rescuers were working at the site, and Turkish soldiers hugged and clapped after their rescue.

The health conditions of the rescued are unclear. However, survivors face difficult conditions amid wrecked cities, with many sleeping outdoors in freezing weather. Much of the region’s water system is not working, and damage to the system raises risks of contamination. Turkey’s health minister said samples taken from dozens of points of the water system were “microbiologically unfit,” highlighting how precarious basic needs continue to be.

The United Nations has been under intense pressure to get more aid and heavy equipment into Syria’s rebel-held northwest since the earthquake struck a week ago, with survivors lacking the means to dig for other survivors and the death toll mounting.

In Syria, President Bashar Assad agreed to open two new crossing points from Turkey to the country’s rebel-held northwest to deliver desperately needed aid and equipment to millions of earthquake victims. The crossings at Bab Al-Salam and Al Raée will be opened for an initial period of three months. Until now, the U.N. has only been allowed to deliver aid to the Idlib area through a single crossing at Bab Al-Hawa.

The first Saudi aid plane, carrying 35 tons of food, landed in government-held Aleppo airport on Tuesday morning, according to Syrian state media. Saudi Arabia has raised some $50 million dollars in a public campaign to aid Turkey and Syria. Prior to Tuesday, Saudi planes landed in Turkey, with Saudi trucks also delivering some aid into impoverished rebel-held northwestern Syria.

Several other Arab countries have sent planes loaded with aid to government-held Syria, including Jordan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. Algeria, Iraq, Oman, Tunisia, Sudan, and Libya have also delivered aid to Damascus.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said late Monday that rescue work continued in Hatay province, along with Kahramanmaras – the epicenter – and Adiyaman. Rescue work appears to have ended in the remaining seven provinces. The quake affected 10 provinces in Turkey that are home to some 13.5 million people