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Turkey-Syria quake live briefing: Turkey moves from rescue to reconstruction; total deaths exceed 41,000

The focus in Turkey is shifting from rescue operations to reconstruction as authorities start carrying out damage assessments of buildings in the worst-affected areas. More than 41,000 people have died across southern Turkey and northwestern Syria.

A woman in her 40s was rescued in Turkey on Wednesday after surviving 222 hours in the rubble, Turkish broadcaster TRT World reported. But hopes of finding more survivors continue to fade. The health needs of survivors in Turkey and Syria are vast, officials from the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

“The search and rescue phase is now coming to an end, but for WHO, the task of saving lives is only just beginning,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization’s secretary general, said in a news briefing.

More than 50,000 buildings in Turkey need to be torn down urgently, the country’s environment and urbanization minister tweeted. “We will quickly demolish what needs to be demolished and build safe houses!” he added. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s government opened the Bab al-Salam and al-Raee border crossings for deliveries of aid into rebel-held regions, a U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesperson said, and a convoy from the United Nations crossed into northwestern Syria through Bab al-Salam.

1. Key developments

During a visit to Turkey’s Malatya region, Culture Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy called on residents to return home if their buildings are deemed safe. He also told a news conference that local public buildings would resume work starting Wednesday.

  • The likelihood of finding survivors is diminishing by the hour even as a few people are still being rescued more than 200 hours after the quakes. The death toll in Turkey passed 35,400 on Tuesday, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Syrian government’s Health Ministry reported 1,414 deaths, and the U.N. humanitarian agency reported 4,400 deaths in rebel-held northwestern Syria.
  • Turkish authorities detained 78 people in connection with social media posts related to the earthquakes, Turkey’s General Directorate of Security said in a news release Wednesday; 20 of them have been formally arrested. The cybercrime department identified more than 600 social media account managers described as having made “provocative posts” about the earthquakes “to create fear and panic.” Turkish officials have repeatedly warned against what they describe as an online disinformation campaign. Under a law passed in October, journalists and social media users can be jailed for up to three years for circulating “disinformation.” Analysts and rights groups have raised concerns that it could be used to stifle criticism of the government.
  • U.N. aid trucks carrying shelter materials, blankets, mattresses and carpets entered a rebel-held region of Syria through the Bab al-Salam crossing on Tuesday, the International Organization for Migration said, one day after the U.N. secretary general announced the border openings. In total, at least 95 U.N. aid trucks had entered northwestern Syria as of Tuesday, the humanitarian agency said.

Turkish stocks rose almost 10 percent after trading reopened Wednesday. Borsa Istanbul’s BIST 100 index halted trading temporarily on Feb. 8 — two days after the earthquakes — and soared as it reopened. However, the Turkish lira has continued to fall against the dollar.

2. Aid efforts

The World Health Organization said it expects to double its $43 million appeal for its earthquake response in the coming days, as the scale of the crisis becomes clearer. Tedros returned Tuesday night from a trip to government-held parts of Syria, where he saw “destruction of entire communities, the unspeakable suffering of people, and the courage and determination of survivors and responders,” he said during a news briefing in Geneva on Wednesday. The 12-year civil war there has complicated the response to the earthquakes, with survivors facing freezing conditions and a lack of shelter, heating, food, clean water or medical care, he added. The WHO has shipped medicines and supplies to help half a million people in Turkey and Syria so far, Tedros said.

  • The United Nations launched an appeal Tuesday for $397.6 million in aid to help earthquake victims in Syria, citing shelter, food, medical supplies, heating devices and heavy machinery for debris removal as “priority needs.” More than 550 buildings have collapsed in rebel-held northwestern Syria, the White Helmets said Tuesday.

The United States is planning for the “longer-term needs” of survivors in Turkey and Syria, State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “We know that the people of Turkey and the people of Syria over the much longer term will need shelter, food, medical supplies and clean water,” he said. “We and our partners are already working to provide this critical support.” U.S. partners installed 20 new water tanks to provide safe water after wells were damaged in the quakes, USAID Administrator Samantha Power wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

  • UNICEF said it “fears many thousands of children have been killed” by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Though the organization does not have verified numbers for child casualties, it said more than 7 million children are known to have lived in provinces affected by the disaster. The agency has also dispatched social workers to Turkish hospitals to help identify unaccompanied or separated children. In total, 508 of 1,396 unaccompanied children extracted from the rubble have been reunited with their families, the Turkish government said.

The foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia made an unusual joint appearance in Ankara on Wednesday, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expressing hope that the humanitarian relief provided by Armenia after the earthquakes could mark a new chapter in relations between the two countries. Turkey cut ties with Armenia in the 1990s. A border crossing between Turkey and Armenia was opened last week for the first time in 30 years, and Armenia sent aid and a rescue team to its quake-devastated neighbor. “We need to continue this solidarity,” Cavusoglu said at the news conference alongside his Armenian counterpart, Ararat Mirzoyan, according to Reuters. Mirzoyan said Armenia was committed to “the full normalization of relations and complete opening of the border with Turkey.”

4. From our correspondents

‘I just want my mother’: Syria and Turkey are struggling with a high number of orphans after the earthquakes: Officials in Syria are struggling to match surviving children with their families, as their identities and histories have been obscured by displacement and 12 years of civil war, Louisa Loveluck and Salwan Georges report. And in Turkey, where many of them have sought refuge, the task of caring for a surge of orphans is often daunting.

  • Leo Sands and Maham Javaid contributed to this report.

Source: The Washington Post

Header: People and emergency teams rescue a person on a stretcher from a collapsed building in Adana, Turkey, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. A powerful quake has knocked down multiple buildings in southeast Turkey and Syria and many casualties are feared. (IHA agency via AP)