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14 million people hit hard by 7.8 magnitude quake in Turkey

Amidst a protracted social and financial crisis, Turkey is now struck by a devastating earthquake, believed the disaster of the century, wiping out ten cities entirely or partially from the map. Thousands of people await and appeal for emergency relief and rescue under the collapsed buildings under icy and tough weather conditions.

While the epicenter of the 7.8-magnitute earthquake was the town of Pazarcik in Turkey’s southeastern Kahramanmaras province, 10 cities in southern and eastern Turkey were hit and destroyed by the tremors. Nine hours into the first earthquake, a second one epicentered in Elbistan near Kahramanmaras province hit with 7.5 magnitude. According to The New York Times,  Pazarcik-centered quake struck Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Syria, especially the city of Aleppo, is the most affected neighboring country from the Kahramanmaras Earthquake.

The Turkish cities affected by the Kahramanmaras earthquake with their populations according to the official records for 2022 are:

Adana: 2.274.106

Gaziantep: 2.154.051

Şanlıurfa: 2.170.110

Diyarbakır: 1.804.880

Hatay: 1.686.043

Kahramanmaraş: 1.177.436

Malatya: 812.580

Adıyaman: 635.169

Osmaniye: 559.405

Kilis: 147.919

Approximately 14 million people have been affected from the earthquake in Turkey. Everyone fears the rise of casualties to hundreds of thousands due to the sheer negligence of the government in launching and executing the emergency relief and rescue operations and medical assistance to the survivors.

According to the BBC Turkce, Fatma Sahin, mayor of the city of Gaziantep said ‘More than half of a city with a population of 60,000 has collapsed and I never saw such a catastrophe in my life’.  The current death toll is announced around 4000; meanwhile, Gaziantep mayor Fatma Sahin reiterates that in just one town, over 30,000 people likely perished. Unbearable are the pain and sorrow, while no one knows and can tell at the moment the total life toll.

Lutfu Savas, mayor of Hatay, which is one of the most affected cities from the earthquake said, ‘The survivors will die of hunger and hypothermia if rescue operations are not hastened and the teams do not arrive sooner to the province.’

Turkey is freezing under heavy snowfall, especially in the regions hit by consecutive tremors within two days. In the wake of the major disaster, the survivors and those trapped under the rubbles face severe problems like immediate rescue and medical treatment, shelter, food, clean water, electricity, heating and several other basic needs. Everyone fears the survivors under rubble and in the open will likely die of hunger and hypothermia if emergency precautions are not taken properly.

When the earthquake hit past midnight, people could not at first realize the scale of destruction. With the first lights of the dawn and through social media posts, the massive destruction of the quake was revealed to be more devastating than thought. For long and especially within the last two decades, Turkey has been notorious about bypassing building safety regulations, and revising city plans for raising concrete jungles. This aggravated the devastation of the earthquake. Yet, one still cannot comprehend why the government acts slow and lazy to deliver emergency rescue and relief teams and materials to the affected regions. In plain sight, the government officials frequently display sheer lack of concern and care.

Turkey raised the highest emergency alarm in the wake of the devastating quakes and demanded urgent international assistance. The United States, European Union, Western countries and several others swiftly dispatch their rescue teams and urgent emergency relief equipment to Turkey. In addition, Elon Musk offered to dispatch the Starlink devices to the affected regions to provide people undisrupted Wi-Fi connection and render the rescue operations more successful. Even if he immediately responded to the crisis and expressed he was ready to send the devices once they were approved by the Turkish officials, the officials declined it with the fear of losing the control over the Starlink’s communications sway over the affectees.

The government waited for almost a day to organize rescue teams and necessary assistance to be provided to the affected regions. The Turkish Armed Forces personnel were deliberately not mobilized in large numbers and were kept in their barracks while people breathed their last under rubbles. Muharrem Ince, a firebrand opponent of President Erdogan, visited Hatay, one of the most affected regions and shared several human stories from there. In response to one of the touching scenes, he appealed to the government and said, ‘There are no emergency teams here! Order the military personnel out of their barracks immediately for emergency assistance.’ Vice President Fuat Oktay said a rescue team of 20 people had been dispatched to Elbistan, the epicenter of the second devastating earthquake in Kahramanmaras province. His brazen delivery of statistics was harshly criticized on Twitter. 

Rescue teams from Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Pakistan, and Greece reached Turkey immediately after the catastrophe, but the Turkish government officials could not steer dispatching emergency teams to the most-affected regions on time. In one of Muharrem Ince’s Twitter posts, a survivor says ‘A rescue team from Japan reached to the city, but no rescue dispatch from Turkey could come yet.’

The overall response the incumbent Turkish government gives to the century’s greatest catastrophe for Turkey reeks of partisan tendencies and consecutive flounders. Volunteers assist the rescue teams and engage themselves in rescue operations. Meanwhile, everyone fears an impending earthquake in Marmara Region, and especially in 18-million Istanbul. Turkey is expectant of more problems in near future with almost no hope to be cared by a better management who may steer the ship in high seas with towering waves and take the country to a safe shore. Turkey has this one and only appeal to the world: “Please pray for us!”

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Engin Yigit is a Politurco columnist, activist, and author. Follow him at @enginyigtt.

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