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Quake death toll nears 25,000 as German, Austrian teams pause work


Relief supplies from the German Red Cross (DRK) for the regions in Turkey affected by the earthquake stand in a hall at BER Airport. Photo: Fabian Sommer/dpa

The death toll from earthquakes in Turkey and Syria neared 25,000 on Saturday as fewer victims were being found alive and German and Austrian rescue teams suspended their work due to security concerns.

In Turkey alone, at least 21,043 people were killed and 80,097 others injured by the two strong quakes that jolted the region earlier this week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in Diyarbakır province.

Turkish universities will switch to distance learning for this semester, in part to open up space for homeless victims to move into student dormitories, Erdoğan added.

So far, 102,388 people were evacuated from 10 quake-stricken southern provinces, Turkish disaster agency AFAD added. Over 166,000 rescue teams and volunteers were working, including more than 8,000 foreign personnel.

At least 3,553 are known to have died and 5,276 injured in neighbouring Syria, where international aid has been slow to trickle in.

The overall death toll stands at 24,596.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN aid chief Martin Griffiths have arrived in the Syrian city of Aleppo, a UN source told dpa.

Around 5 million people are believed to have been affected by the earthquakes in Syria, according to the WHO.

Aleppo, in the north-west of the country, is controlled by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Tedros’ plane carried around 35 tons of vital medical equipment and a second plane will arrive within two days, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported.

Even though the chances of survival are vanishingly small at this point, a handful of remarkable rescues were reported after five days of searching.

A 4-year-old girl named Şengül was pulled alive in Turkey’s Gaziantep after 132 hours, state broadcaster TRT said. Teams then reached her father moments later.

A Turkish couple in the southern province of Adıyaman were brought to safety on Saturday after being trapped under the rubble of a collapsed home for more than 129 hours, TRT said, while a 2-month-old baby was rescued alive in Hatay province, state news agency Anadolu reported.

At least four people were pulled alive from the rubble on Friday night in the Syrian city of Jableh, according to the Syrian Red Crescent.

Turkey’s disaster agency more than 1,891 aftershocks had hit the region since two massive quakes hit in succession on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, German and Austrian rescue teams announced they had suspended work in Turkey’s Hatay province, citing security concerns.

Germany’s Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) and the aid organization I.S.A.R Germany are pausing their rescue work in Hatay province after riot-like situations.

The Austrian military suspended its rescue operations owing to “increasing aggression between factions in Turkey.” Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Kugelweis of the Austrian Armed Forces told the APA news agency that there had been reports of gunfire.

THW and I.S.A.R attributed the tense situation to, among other things, “the shortage of food and the problematic water supply in the earthquake area.”

I.S.A.R director of operations Steven Bayer said, “It can be seen that grief is slowly giving way to anger.”

Germany and Austria said the teams would remain on the ground and resume operations when the situation calmed.

Turkey opened a border crossing with Armenia to allow humanitarian aid for the earthquake survivors, Anadolu reported.

Five trucks of humanitarian aid passed through the Alican border crossing in Turkey’s Iğdır province. The crossing was last used in 1988 when Turkish Red Crescent delivered aid after an earthquake in Armenia, Anadolu said.

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