© Reuters. Muhammet Ruzgar, 5, is carried out by rescuers from the site of a damaged building, following an earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, February 7, 2023. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
By Mehmet Emin Caliskan, Ece Toksabay and Huseyin Hayatsever
ANTAKYA, Turkey (Reuters) – “They’re making noises but nobody is coming,” Deniz cried out, holding his hands to his head as he railed against the lack of efforts to rescue those trapped under rubble after a powerful earthquake killed thousands in Turkey and Syria.
Desperate screams for help could be heard from those trapped in collapsed buildings in the Mediterranean coastal province of Hatay where people tried to keep warm around bonfires in cold rainy weather.
Hatay, which borders northwest Syria, is the worst-hit province in Turkey with at least 872 people killed. Residents complained of inadequate emergency response and rescue workers said they have struggled to get equipment.
Deniz cried as he pointed to a destroyed building in which his mother and father were stuck, awaiting emergency workers.
“We’re devastated, we’re devastated. My God!” he said. “They’re calling out. They’re saying, ‘Save us,’ but we can’t save them. How are we going to save them? There has been nobody since the morning.”
Rescue workers have struggled to cope with the scale of destruction across southern Turkey and northwest Syria, with the total death toll rising above 5,000 on Tuesday morning.
Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) has said 13,740 search and rescue personnel have been deployed to the quake region, but the level of damage is huge with nearly 6,000 buildings destroyed in southern Turkey.
In Hatay alone, more than 1,200 buildings have been destroyed, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
Rescue teams in the province complained about a lack of equipment, while people on the road stopped cars and asked for any tools to help remove the rubble.
The government declared a “level 4 alarm” after the quake struck, calling for international assistance, but has not declared a state of emergency that would lead to mass mobilisation of the military.
In Hatay’s provincial capital of Antakya, where 10-storey buildings had crumbled on to the streets, Reuters journalists saw rescue work being carried out at one of the dozens of mounds of rubble.
“There are no emergency workers, no soldiers. Nobody. This is a neglected place,” said one man, who had travelled to Hatay from Ankara after managing to pull out a woman from the wreckage of a building on his own.
“This is a human life. What can you do when you hear a sound of life?” said the man, who declined to be named, as the woman received medical attention in a car.
The southern province of Hatay hosts more than 400,000 Syrians, mostly refugees from the country’s nearly 12-year civil war, according to the Turkish Interior Ministry.