Türkiye-Syria quakes 'worst' disaster of region in century, says UN as more aid needed

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Rescuers work at an earthquake-hit site in Latakia, Syria, Feb. 10, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

The devastating earthquakes that shook southern Türkiye and northern Syria was the "worst event" to hit the region in a century, a senior official from the United Nations said on Saturday.

"What happened here on Monday, the epicenter of the earthquake, was the worst event in 100 years in this region," Martin Griffiths, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, told reporters in the Turkish province of Kahramanmaras.

More than 100 countries have sent emergency response teams to Türkiye, but "we're going to need more than that," Griffiths said.

The UN would launch the appeal to raise money for agencies to come and help the people who've been affected, he added.

"We have a clear plan tomorrow (or) the day after to give an appeal for a three-month operation to help the people of Türkiye with humanitarian assistance, and we will do some similar one for the people of Syria," he said.

As they are coming to the end of the rescue phase, the UN official expressed concern for the second phase of the disaster. "The second phase of a natural disaster of this size is often a medical one, where we have huge worries here and in Syria, of the health problems which have been going on treated," he noted.

This photo taken with a mobile phone shows Chinese and Turkish rescue teams carrying out rescue operation inside earthquake ruins in Antakya in the southern province of Hatay, Türkiye, Feb. 9, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

Türkiye's response to the disaster was "extraordinary," Griffiths added.

The death toll from Monday's devastating earthquakes climbed to 22,327 in Türkiye, while another 80,278 injuries were reported in the country, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Saturday night.

Search and rescue efforts in ten quake-hit 10 provinces of Türkiye have now begun to turn to debris removal on the sixth day of the disaster. Rescue teams from across Türkiye and around the world were still trying to find survivors in the rubble of toppled buildings and pulled them out against all odds. However, while the number of casualties is soaring, the number of injured pulled out of the rubble was so few on Saturday.

In a statement, the Turkish Medical Association warned about infectious diseases that may occur after the earthquake. Damage to infrastructure such as electricity, water, and sewerage increases the risk of water and food-borne diseases, the statement said.

Risks increase for acute respiratory infections such as influenza, and coronavirus, along with the possibility of contact-transmitted diseases such as scabies, lice, fungi, and diarrheal diseases, it added.

Chinese rescuers have successfully saved at least four survivors so far. An 82-member China Search and Rescue Team arrived in Türkiye on Wednesday to join earthquake relief efforts in the country. Members of the Blue Sky Rescue Team and other Chinese civil relief squads were also in Türkiye to join the international rescue work.

At least 160,000 people, including foreign teams, were on the field for search and rescue efforts, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday. All the state dormitories of universities will be reserved for earthquake victims, and university students will have distance learning until the summer, he noted.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu slammed Germany and Austria because their teams have suspended their efforts due to security threats, and criticized them for "slandering" Türkiye.

Volunteers transport earthquake relief supplies donated to Türkiye at a warehouse of Shanghai Pudong International Airport in east China's Shanghai, Feb. 11, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

"Austria's search and rescue team left the job with the claim of battering ... From the first day (of the quake), 416 incidents took place. In the six days before the earthquake, 586 events occurred," in the region, the Turkish minister explained.

"230 people have been detained so far, there are more than 20 arrests. Our friends take the security of the logistics warehouses, the security of the debris fields, the security of the tent sites," he said.

A border gate between Türkiye and Armenia has been opened for the first time in decades for the passage of humanitarian assistance for earthquake victims, the state-run Anadolu News Agency reported Saturday.

The Alican Border Gate was last used in the 1988 earthquake in Armenia when the Turkish Red Crescent crossed the border gate to dispatch aid to disaster areas.

The Armenian aid delegation carrying 100 tonnes of food, medicine, and drinking water passed through the gate in the morning toward the southeastern province of Adiyaman, according to a tweet on Saturday by Serdar Kilic, Türkiye's special representative for normalization talks with Armenia.

Türkiye severed diplomatic relations and closed the border with Armenia in 1993 in support of Azerbaijan which was fighting a war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The two neighbors launched talks on normalizing their ties in 2022.

This photo shows supplies provided by Kuwait as humanitarian aid aboard a plane at Kuwait International Airport in Farwaniya Governorate, Kuwait, Feb. 9, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

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