The death toll from the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday has risen steadily and there is no sign that it has stabilized. It now stands at more than 7,900 confirmed casualties. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the final death toll could be in excess of 20,000. It has also estimated that as many as 23 million people across Turkey and Syria could have been affected by the tragedy. But Ovgun Ahmet Ercan, an earthquake expert, has estimated in an interview with The Economist that “180,000 people or more may be trapped under the rubble, nearly all of them dead”.
As February 7 wore on, there were multiple heart-rending stories of people still trapped under the rubble sending voice notes from their mobile phones appealing for a rescue team to come to their location, MSN news reported.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared as a disaster zone the 10 provinces affected by the devastating earthquakes in southeastern Turkey, imposing a state of emergency in the region for three months.
In a speech, he said 70 countries had offered help in search and rescue operations and that Turkey planned to open up hotels in the tourism hub of Antalya, to the west on the Mediterranean coast, to temporarily house homeless earthquake survivors.
In Geneva, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder described the initial quake as the most powerful to strike the region in almost 100 years, saying Syrian refugees in northwest Syria and in Turkey were among the most vulnerable.
Turkey’s disaster management agency said it had 11,342 reports of buildings that collapsed during the earthquakes, of which 5,775 had been confirmed.
In the meantime, what started as a rescue operation has turned into a heart wrenching effort tto recover the dead. A BBC correspondent described it: “They have a large digger that they use to carve out great chunks of this rubble. Rescuers wrap bodies carefully in blankets and bring them out to the relatives that wait on the pavement. They give them a moment and a chance to say goodbye before they are put in metal coffins and taken away.”
There is also growing anger about the slow pace of rescue and recover operations and about the Earthquake Tax that was levied by the Turkish government more than two decades ago in the wake of a massive quake. The estimated 88bn lira ($4.6b; £3.8b) was meant to have been spent on disaster prevention and the development of emergency services. In 1999, more than 17,000 people were killed in a powerful quake that hit northwestern Turkey.
Questions about the “special communication tax” – as the authorities call it – are asked every time there is an earthquake in Turkey. But the government has never publicly explained how the money is spent, according to BBC Turkish.
“Where have all our taxes gone, collected since 1999?”, Celal Deniz, 61, said to AFP as he waits for his brother and nephews to be freed from under rubble.
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