PH Mission Off To Turkey, Syria

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Joins other nations in rescue, medical efforts as death toll crosses 5,000

The Philippines is joining other nations in offering aid to Turkey and Syria, as a contingent of rescuers and medical personnel are leaving today to assist in search and rescue operations following the massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the region on Monday.

FLATTENED BY QUAKE. This aerial view shows residents searching for victims and survivors amidst the rubble of collapsed buildings following an earthquake in the village of Besnia near the town of Harim, in Syria’s rebel-held northwestern Idlib province on the border with Turkey, on February 6. Thousands have been reportedly killed in north Syria after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that originated in Turkey and was felt across neighboring countries. AFP

A massive rescue effort in both Turkey and Syria battled frigid weather in a race against time to find survivors under buildings flattened by an earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the country’s aim was to send a contingent of rescuers and healthcare volunteers by Wednesday to assist in the search and rescue of survivors and victims of the strong temblor that devastated the two countries.

“We organized a group of about 85 personnel together with some goods,” Mr. Marcos said, adding he received assurance from an airline company that will be assisting the Philippine contingent to Turkey.

Citing figures from the attached agencies, the Department of Foreign Affairs said some 248 Filipinos in Turkish provinces were affected by the earthquake, while there are 60 in Syria.

As of Tuesday, Feb. 7, DFA said no Filipinos have been reported as casualties of the earthquake and its aftershocks that hit the Turkish city of Gaziantep early Monday.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it would deploy 33 military personnel to help in ongoing search and rescue efforts in Turkey. The personnel are trained in search and rescue operations and have the equipment for the special task, AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Andres Centino said.

“We are sending two groups, from the Army and the Air Force. A total of 33 personnel—21 from the Army, 12 from the Air Force,” Centino told reporters on the sidelines of the inspection of responding troops and equipment at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

While this is the first time for the troops to be deployed abroad, Centino said they have responded to various calamities and typhoons in the Philippines, including the aftermath of Typhoon Odette in December 2021.

A massive rescue effort in both Turkey and Syria battled frigid weather in a race against time to find survivors under buildings flattened by an earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people.

Tremors that inflicted more suffering on a border area already plagued by conflict left people on the streets burning debris to try to stay warm.

Turkey put the latest death toll at 3,419 in that country alone—bringing the confirmed tally in both Turkey and Syria to 5,021.

Rescuers were working on collapsed apartments with heavy equipment as a worldwide relief effort promised food, search teams, and equipment for the disaster zone.

The United States, the European Union, and Russia led international messages of condolence and offers of help.

There are fears that the toll will rise inexorably, with WHO officials estimating up to 20,000 may have died. They warned that up to 23 million people could be affected by the massive earthquake and urged nations to rush help to the disaster zone (see related story on A1 – Editors)

President Joe Biden promised his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the United States will send “any and all” aid needed to help recover.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky offered to provide “the necessary assistance” to Turkey, whose combat drones are helping Kyiv fight the Russian invasion.

Chinese state media said on Tuesday that Beijing was sending rescuers, medical teams, and other supplies.

Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

The country’s last 7.8-magnitude tremor was in 1939 when 33,000 died in the eastern Erzincan province.

The Turkish region of Duzce suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999 when more than 17,000 people died.

Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.

“We live on the first floor out of three, we’re too scared to return,” said Imam Caglar, 42, in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa. “Our building is not safe at all.”

“My mother-in-law, my father-in-law, and two of my father-in-law’s sons (are trapped),” said Mahmud al-Ali in the Syrian city of Aleppo. “We are sitting here in the cold and rain and waiting for the rescuers to start digging.”

The 7.8-magnitude quake struck Monday as people slept, flattening thousands of structures, trapping an unknown number of people, and potentially impacting millions.

Whole rows of buildings collapsed, leaving some of the heaviest devastation near the quake’s epicenter between the Turkish cities of Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras.

The destruction led to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declaring Tuesday a three-month state of emergency in 10 southeastern provinces.

Fears toll will rise

A winter storm has compounded the misery by rendering many roads—some of them damaged by the quake—almost impassable, resulting in traffic jams that stretch for kilometers in some regions.

The cold rain and snow are a risk both for people forced from their homes—who took refuge in mosques, schools or even bus shelters—and the survivors buried under debris.

“It is now a race against time,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“We have activated the WHO network of emergency medical teams to provide essential health care for the injured and most vulnerable,” he added.

The Syrian Red Crescent appealed to Western countries to lift sanctions and provide aid as President Bashar al-Assad’s government remains a pariah in the West, complicating international relief efforts.

Washington and the European Commission said on Monday that humanitarian programmes supported by them were responding to the destruction in Syria.

‘My family under rubble’

The UN’s cultural agency UNESCO also said it was ready to provide assistance after two sites listed on its World Heritage list in Syria and Turkey sustained damage.

In addition to the damage to Aleppo’s old city and the fortress in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, UNESCO said at least three other World Heritage sites could be affected.

Much of the quake-hit area of northern Syria has already been decimated by years of war and aerial bombardment by Syrian and Russia forces that destroyed homes, hospitals, and clinics.

Residents in the quake-devastated town of Jandairis in northern Syria used their bare hands and pickaxes to for survivors, as that was all they had to get the job done.

“My whole family is under there—my sons, my daughter, my son-in-law… There’s no one else to get them out,” said Ali Battal, his face streaked with blood and head swathed in a wool shawl against the bitter cold.

“I hear their voices. I know they’re alive but there’s no one to rescue them,” adds the man in his 60s.

The Syrian health ministry reported damage across the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama, and Tartus, where Russia is leasing a naval facility.

Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo—Syria’s pre-war commercial hub—often collapsed due to the dilapidated infrastructure.

Following the earthquake, prisoners mutinied at a jail holding mostly Islamic State group members in northwestern Syria, with at least 20 escaping, a source at the facility told AFP.

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