Turkey-Syria quake briefing: Death toll passes 36,000; key Turkish airport reopens to aid shipments

Rescue workers in Turkey and Syria are hampered by limited equipment and sluggish access to humanitarian aid following a pair of powerful earthquakes on Feb 6. (Video: Joe Snell/The Washington Post)
6 min

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One week after devastating earthquakes tore through southern Turkey and northwestern Syria, aid groups say help has been slow to reach the people of Syria, with pressure mounting on global leaders to overcome the logistical and political challenges caused by the country’s civil war. The death toll in both countries passed 36,000 on Monday, and tens of thousands of survivors have been left injured or homeless.

In Turkey, a key airport near the epicenter whose runway was damaged in the quakes restarted operations, in a possible boon to authorities and aid groups leading rescue and recovery efforts.

Here’s the latest on the aftermath of the earthquakes:

1. Key developments

  • The death toll across Syria and Turkey rose to 36,217 on Monday. In Turkey, 31,643 people are known to have been killed, the country’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said. In the government-controlled portion of Syria, 1,414 people have died, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA). The rebel-run Syrian Salvation Government’s Health Ministry has reported 3,160 deaths.
  • Hatay Airport reopened after damage from the earthquakes was repaired, adding a key port for aid deliveries and evacuations to the devastated region. Airmen in uniform were seen unloading a small mountain of cardboard boxes containing mattresses and blankets Sunday night, in footage on Turkey’s TRT World broadcaster.
  • The United Nations acknowledged “troubles” in its early aid efforts in Syria. U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, speaking after a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, said he was “pleased to hear reassurances from the Syrian government that they will support us in the work that we are doing all over Syria” — a reference to reports that U.N. efforts to deliver aid have been held up by factional infighting in the country.
  • A total of 52 U.N. trucks carrying relief supplies entered Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing from Thursday through Monday, a spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. On Sunday, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said in a tweet that the trucks entered in a “scale-up of convoys” coming from a center at the Turkish border.

2. Aid efforts

  • About 26 million people across Turkey and Syria have been affected by the earthquakes, with dozens of medical facilities damaged, the World Health Organization said in a recent report, which makes an appeal for nearly $42.8 million in immediate aid. At least 15 hospitals in Turkey have been damaged, the report added, while 48 health facilities in northwestern Syria have been affected. Turkey’s emergency response ministry said it had evacuated roughly 150,000 people from the earthquake zone.
  • A new decree from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan allows mobile pharmacies to enter the earthquake zone, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced Monday. He said the country’s Ministry of Health will continue to provide free drugs.
  • Aid from Indonesia has arrived in Turkey as part of a continuing flow of global support to the country, according to Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency. Planes carrying rescue personnel and equipment landed early Monday at Adana Airport, west of the most affected parts of the country. The Syrian government, meanwhile, said it had received aid, including clothes, blankets, mattresses and tents, via planes from Iran and the Russian republic of Chechnya.
  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke with Erdogan on Sunday. Von der Leyen promised to mobilize “additional support” to respond to Turkey’s request for blankets, tents and heaters, according to a readout of their call.
  • Kelly T. Clements, the U.N. deputy high commissioner for refugees, met with Syrian officials to discuss cooperation and aid. Social Affairs Minister Mohamed Seif El-Din said in a news release that they discussed the possibility of using the U.N. cash transfer program established for Syrian refugees displaced by the war to support earthquake victims.
Asya Nur Oksuz, 17, was pulled alive from ruins in Turkey's Hatay province on Feb. 12, nearly a week after deadly earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria. (Video: Reuters)

3. Rescue operations

  • Nearly 4,500 search-and-rescue operations have been conducted in Turkey, and about 400 of them have been completed, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said at a news conference. “We have been experiencing the largest disaster in history,” he added, through an interpreter. “We are working very hard to manage it.” Fuat Oktay, Turkey’s vice president, said the country has about 34,700 people working on rescue operations.
  • “The rescue phase” consisting of “dragging live people out from the rubble and finding those who died in the rubble” is “coming to a close,” said the U.N.’s Griffiths, speaking from Aleppo. “Now, the humanitarian phase — the urgency of providing shelter, psychosocial care, food, schooling and a sense of the future for these people — that’s our obligation now,” he added. Griffiths said humanitarian aid will be needed for at least three months.
  • People are still being rescued from underneath the rubble. A 72-year-old woman was among those rescued from the remains of a three-story building in Hatay’s Antakya district, according to Turkish media. A pair of brothers, ages 8 and 15, were rescued together, the state-run news outlet Anadolu Agency reported. And Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu shared a video of rescuers clapping after loading a rescued person into an ambulance. Surviving more than 130 hours in the rubble “becomes more and more remarkable without any access to water,” Christopher Colwell, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, told The Washington Post.
  • United Hatzalah, an Israeli search-and-rescue group, announced that it is leaving Turkey over a “concrete and immediate threat” to security after just six days, Israeli media reported, citing Dov Maisel, the group’s vice president of operations. The group arrived in the country on Feb. 7 and helped extract survivors from the rubble in Kahramanmaras.
  • Fadi al-Halabi, a cinematographer for the Oscar-winning documentary “The White Helmets,” said 13 members of his family died. “My family is gone,” he wrote on Facebook, sharing photos of children posing at a picnic and in front of ocean waves.

4. From our correspondents

Syrian veterinarians are saving pets and farm animals that lost their humans in the earthquakes: An animal sanctuary in rebel-held Syria has been working tirelessly to save dogs, cats, chickens and other creatures trapped or injured in rubble, after years of also trying to do so during a grueling civil war, Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff reports.

Louisa Loveluck, Amanda Coletta, Paulina Villegas, Claire Parker and Ellen Francis contributed to this report.