Turkey-Syria quake live briefing: Turkey moves from rescue to reconstruction; U.S. calls for U.N. resolution to keep Turkey-Syria border crossings open

A teenage boy holds food that he found in the rubble of buildings in the rebel-held town of Harem, Syria, on Tuesday. (Emilie Madi/Reuters)
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The focus in Turkey is shifting from rescue operations to reconstruction in the aftermath of last week’s catastrophic earthquake, as authorities carry out damage assessments 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.

The United States has called for a U.N. Security Council resolution to codify the opening of border crossings from Turkey into northwest Syria. Bashar al-Assad’s government opened the Bab al-Salam and al-Raee border crossings this week 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. A Security Council resolution would make these changes permanent, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

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

1. Key developments

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that search and rescue efforts, an “extraordinary struggle,” are ongoing. “We will first complete the search and rescue efforts, not leave a single person under the rubble, and carry out the subsistence and accommodation services in a way that will not cause anyone grievances,” he said Wednesday in a nationwide “Turkiye United as One” fundraising campaign broadcast on Turkish TV, Anadolu news agency reported.
  • More than 50,000 buildings in Turkey need to be torn down urgently, the country’s environment and urbanization minister, Murat Kurum, tweeted. The Turkish government has erected tens of thousands of tents for displaced people and is planning to build container cities where they can live before permanent housing is constructed, Adil Karaismailoglu, the country’s transportation and infrastructure minister, said in a news briefing Wednesday. Workers are also repairing electricity and communications infrastructure, he added.
  • 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 earthquakes caused the East Anatolian fault to fracture in five places and the land area to shift by several meters, Orhan Tatar, risk reduction general manager for the Turkish emergency management agency, said in a news conference Wednesday. Scientists are studying the earthquake zone to assess the extent of deformation and collecting data that could help Turkey take steps to prevent similar devastation from occurring as a result of future earthquakes, he added. Tatar warned residents about an increased risk of landslides after the quakes and as some areas see heavy snow.
  • 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. Twenty 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.
  • 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.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to travel to Turkey next week, the State Department announced Wednesday. He will visit Incirlik Air Base to observe U.S. relief efforts and then travel to Ankara to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, and other Turkish officials, the statement said.
CCTV footage released by Turkish police shows buildings collapsing in Malatya the moment the 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the Turkish-Syrian border on Feb. 6. (Video: Police Handout)

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 Wednesday during a news briefing in Geneva. 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 a half-million people in Turkey and Syria so far, Tedros said.
  • The United Arab Emirates will send $50 million to Syria for earthquake relief, the official Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported. Of that sum, $20 million is slated to go toward the implementation of humanitarian projects in response to the U.N. appeal, and those projects will be carried out in coordination with the United Nations. The aid package comes on top of a $50 million donation to those affected by earthquakes in Syria and $50 million to affected people in Turkey, as well as shipments of relief supplies to both countries.
  • 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.
  • About 1,400 bodies of Syrians who died in the earthquakes in Turkey have been repatriated to northwest Syria through the Bab al-Hawa crossing so far, Hussein Bazar, health minister for the self-declared Syrian Salvation Government in the rebel-held region, said in a statement posted to Twitter on Wednesday. More bodies continue to arrive, he added.
At least nine survivors were rescued from the rubble in Turkey on Feb. 14. Last week's earthquakes in the region left many people homeless in the bitter cold. (Video: Reuters)

3. Global impact

  • Jordan’s top diplomat visited Damascus for the first time since the war in Syria broke out more than a decade ago. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi met with Assad on Wednesday to pledge continued aid to the Syrian people in the wake of the earthquakes, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported. Jordan is among the Arab countries that have offered humanitarian assistance over the past week to Assad, who has been politically isolated and under international sanctions for years. “Jordan cannot do anything but stand shoulder to shoulder with Syria after the earthquakes,” Safadi told Jordanian public broadcaster al-Mamlaka. Safadi visited Turkey next.
  • The foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia made an unusual joint appearance Wednesday in Ankara, with Cavusoglu, the Turkish official, 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.
  • Countries around the world should do “all that they possibly can to get as much humanitarian assistance into Syria as quickly as we possibly can,” Price, the State Department spokesman, said in a news briefing Wednesday. “We don’t support normalization of relations with the Assad regime,” he adding, emphasizing that the humanitarian crisis in Syria that predated the earthquakes “in large part has its roots in the Assad regime’s treatment of its own people.”

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