Turkey-Syria earthquake death toll passes 28,000 as rescue hopes dwindle
Unrest in southern Turkey has disrupted rescue efforts in some places following Monday’s deadly earthquake, three rescue groups have said.
The death toll in Turkey and Syria from the quake has surpassed 28,000, and hope of finding many more survivors is fading despite some miraculous rescues.
German rescuers and the Austrian army paused search operations on Saturday, citing clashes between unnamed groups.
Security is expected to worsen as food supplies dwindle, one rescuer said.
Turkey’s president said he would use emergency powers to punish anyone breaking the law.
An Austrian army spokesperson said early on Saturday that clashes between unidentified groups in the Hatay province had left dozens of personnel from the Austrian Forces Disaster Relief Unit seeking shelter in a base camp with other international organisations.
“There is increasing aggression between factions in Turkey,” Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Kugelweis said in a statement. “The chances of saving a life bears no reasonable relation to the safety risk.”
Hours after Austria paused its rescue efforts, the country’s ministry of defence said that the Turkish army had stepped in to offer protection, allowing the rescue operations to resume.
The German branch of the search and rescue group ISAR and Germany’s Federal Agency for Technical Relief (TSW) also suspended operations, citing security concerns.
“There are more and more reports of clashes between different factions, shots have also been fired,” said ISAR spokesperson Stefan Heine.
Steven Bayer, operations manager of Isar, said he expected security to worsen as food, water, and hope become more scarce.
“We are watching the security situation very closely as it develops,” he said.
German rescue teams said they would resume work as soon as Turkish authorities deem the situation safe, Reuters news agency reported.
The Vice President of Turkey, Fuat Oktay announced on Saturday the death toll in Turkey has risen to 24,617.
While Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan hasn’t commented on the reported unrest in Hatay, he did reiterate on Saturday that the government would take action against those involved in crimes in the region.
“We’ve declared a state of emergency,” Mr Erdogan said during a visit to the disaster zone today. “It means that, from now on, the people who are involved in looting or kidnapping should know that the state’s firm hand is on their backs.”
State media reported on Saturday that 48 people had been arrested for looting, according to AFP. Turkish state media reported several guns were seized, along with cash, jewellery and bank cards.
A 26-year-old man searching for a work colleague in a collapsed building in Antakya told Reuters: “People were smashing the windows and fences of shops and cars.”
Turkish police have also reportedly detained 12 people over collapsed buildings in the provinces of Gaziantep and Sanliurfa. They included contractors, according to the DHA news agency.
There are also expected to be more arrests after Mr Oktay told reporters late Saturday that prosecutors issued 113 arrest warrants over the buildings.
At least 6,000 buildings collapsed in Turkey, raising questions about if the large-scale tragedy could have been avoided and whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government could have done more to save lives.
With elections looming, the president’s future is on the line after spending 20 years in power and his pleas for national unity going unheeded.
Mr Erdogan has admitted shortcomings in the response, but he appeared to blame fate on a visit to one disaster zone: “Such things have always happened. It’s part of destiny’s plan.”