Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared a three-month state of emergency in areas devastated by the worst earthquake in decades, as his government and aid agencies advance conduct a large-scale rescue effort to find survivors.
The emergency rule, which will go into effect just before Turkey’s hotly contested general election in May, gives Erdoğan’s government extraordinary powers to avert a humanitarian crisis caused by a massive earthquake. occurred in southeastern Turkey and neighboring Syria on Monday.
Nearly 5,000 people have been confirmed dead across the two countries after the largest earthquake in the region in eight decades struck near the city of Gaziantep. The death toll is expected to continue to rise, with many still trapped under the rubble.
The power of emergency, applied across Turkey following the 2016 coup attempt, allows Erdoğan to rule by decree, bypassing parliament and regional governments run by opposition parties. The measures could also restrict basic rights, an issue that is particularly sensitive in southeastern Turkey, which has fallen into a state of emergency during the country’s decades-long conflict with other countries. outlawed Kurdish separatist group.
Authorities in both Turkey and Syria on Tuesday raced to deliver aid to stricken areas and help victims trapped in the rubble, but roads were damaged, and weather conditions were not enough. Bad news and communication disruptions have hampered their efforts to prevent the crisis from getting worse.
More than 10,000 people have been involved in the rescue effort in Turkey, with aid organizations mobilizing to provide basic necessities such as food and shelter. Turkish TV showed collapsed buildings, strewn metal and uneven roads across the affected area, where strong aftershocks could be felt.
The confirmed death toll in Turkey has reached 3,419 as of Tuesday afternoon, while 1,559 people have been killed in Syria, according to official sources and groups operating in rebel-held areas of the country. this country.
Aid groups working in Syria’s Idlib region, one of the remaining opposition-controlled enclaves, where more than 4 million people have sought refuge after the country’s 12-year conflict, said they were struggling with poor communication.
There are also concerns about supplies of food, aid and clean water in an area that last year had a cholera outbreak. The United Nations says aid shipments from Turkey into Syria have been suspended because of logistical problems. Northern Syria depends on humanitarian aid and supplies being delivered through the part of Turkey devastated by the earthquake.
Kieren Barnes, Syria director of aid group Mercy Corps, said the early period after the quake was characterized by “chaos, confusion, fear”.
“Today we start to get a clearer picture of what is going on, we begin to formulate our plans, regroup and respond,” he said. “Obviously there will be huge pressure in Turkey on supply. So this will be a scramble for resources in the days and weeks to come.”
Turkish television covered one of the worst natural disasters in modern Turkish history. Witnesses in Hatay province described hearing cries for help from people trapped under the rubble that went unanswered as rescuers tried to reach the area.
Authorities have closed roads to Hatay and the cities of Kahramanmaraş and Adıyaman to anyone but aid and rescue vehicles, as they try to overcome logistical challenges posed by the disaster . Some on the ground complained rescuers were too slow or didn’t show up as they battled shortages of clean water and electricity.
In a sign of potential economic slowdown, Turkey’s benchmark Bist 100 stock index lost 7%, triggering containment measures designed to defuse panic trading. According to Bloomberg data, the Turkish lira also hit a new low after a long slide that was largely due to the government’s unorthodox interest rate cut despite high inflation.
Teams of Turkish rescuers have been filtering through Istanbul’s main airport since Monday, many sleeping on the floor as they waited for their flights.
“We have to do everything we can to help,” said Sinan Aksoy, 34, a firefighter en route to the southern city of Adana with a group of about 50 volunteers. “We’re racing against time to find survivors.”
Erdoğan said about 100 billion TL ($5.3 billion) will be provided to help the earthquake-stricken area. About 54,000 tents, 100,000 mattresses and 50,000 beds are also being sent to the area.
Experts say the low quality of buildings and a lack of resilience after earthquakes have contributed to the devastation. Many buildings “were not designed with seismic considerations in mind to absorb this much ground motion,” said Kishor Jaiswal, a scientist at the US Geological Survey.
He added: “It is difficult to see this tragedy unfold, especially since we have known for a long time how buildings in the area tend to perform poorly during earthquakes. .