Earthquake Devastates Turkey and Syria

Days after a deadly earthquake hit the southeastern region of Turkey and northern Syria, recovery efforts are still in their early stages. The death toll currently stands at over 40,000; it has continually risen as relief workers continue to search through the wreckage, with the number of survivors dwindling. 

The powerful earthquake hit in the early morning of February 6th and had a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale. The quake’s epicenter was near the city of Gaziantep in southern Turkey, close to the Syrian border, but there was extensive damage in towns over one hundred miles away. According to an analysis from NASA’s Earth Observatory site, this quake was particularly deadly as it hit close to the surface in a densely populated area, Gaziantep hosting a population of about 2 million people. Aftershocks, as well as an additional 7.5 magnitude earthquake nine hours after the first, were responsible for much of the destruction. 

Assessments of the number of collapsed buildings have varied as the government attempts to get a handle on the ongoing crisis.

Turkish civil engineer Sinan Turkkan (he/him) told Al Jazeera that the government estimates between 6,000 and 7,000 buildings were destroyed. Turkkan attributed part of the devastation to buildings not being up to code, despite stricter standards imposed after a devastating earthquake in 1999. He lamented that infrastructure was not reinforced during the past two decades, stating, “We could have saved at least 5,000 of the buildings that we lost on Monday from complete destruction. We could have saved many, many lives.” 

The rescue effort faces significant challenges after the earthquake. Citing freezing temperatures, the widespread devastation, and fatigue among workers, a liaison for the AKUT disaster relief organization told CNN they were “approaching the end of the search and rescue window.” Many displaced by the quake are struggling without basic necessities like heat and running water. Reuters reports that some Turkish restaurant owners have traveled dozens of miles to help feed the displaced.  

Meanwhile, aid to Syria has been limited due to civil war in the northern region. The first UN aid convoy crossed into the region on February 9th, three days after the initial disaster. There is also currently only one access point, a border crossing called Bab al-Hawa. NBC News reports that the U.S. is pressuring the UN Security Council to open additional points of entry to improve the flow of aid. The Security Council is to consider the resolution this week. 

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