Rescuers miraculously recovered new survivors from the rubble in southern Turkey, where aid is now flowing, a week after the earthquake that killed more than 35,000 people, but the situation in Syria remains very complex.
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These rescues are unexpected as they took place well over the crucial 72-hour period following the disaster that struck the two countries.
According to press reports, seven people were released alive in Turkey during the night from Sunday to Monday, including a three-year-old child in Kahramanmaras and a 60-year-old woman in Besni. Another, 40, was also rescued after 170 hours in Gaziantep.
A member of a UK rescue team posted video on Twitter on Sunday showing a rescuer walking through a tunnel dug in the ruins of the same city and retrieving a person stranded for five days.
And in the southern city of Kahramanmaras, near the quake’s epicenter, excavators were at work while victims huddled around a fire and awaited word from their loved ones.
In total, more than 34,000 people are currently working to find survivors, said Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay. Around 1.2 million people have been housed in student accommodation and 400,000 have been evacuated, he added.
Help is flowing now
In Antakya, the Antioch of ancient Greece, after the first three or four days of abandonment, help is now being organized.
To the great relief of the survivors, basic toilets without water were installed and telephone service was restored in several parts of the city.
30,000 tents were pitched in Kahramanmaras, the epicenter of the earthquake, while 48,000 people stayed in schools and 11
500 in sports halls, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said.
A heavy police and military presence is now visible, the authorities specifying that it is to prevent looting following incidents this weekend.
However, many Antakya residents interviewed by AFP explained the thefts in the supermarkets in the first few days as an absolute necessity, in which many found themselves without water, electricity and money due to a lack of support from the authorities.
Now aid is flowing in Antakya as in Kahramanmara, according to AFP teams.
Toilets are also appearing in this second city.
And AFP found everywhere a very strong solidarity of the population towards the inhabitants of the disaster areas.
However, in Hatay province, trucks have just left aid packages on the road to avoid waiting at an aid center.
We also saw a video of some volunteers throwing clothes into the crowd at random.
Devastated places of worship
Meanwhile, according to Turkish media, the search operations in Sanliurfa, Kilis, Osmaniye and Adana have ended.
On the other hand, the interior minister noted, they continue in 308 places in Kahramanmaras.
Primary and secondary schools in 10 quake-hit cities will remain closed until March 1, Education Minister Mahmut Ozer said.
Schools in the other cities will reopen on February 20th.
The earthquake also reduced important places of worship to rubble.
In Antakya, Havva Pamukcu, a follower of the Habib-I Nejjar Mosque, can’t believe it.
“This place means a lot to us,” she sighs. “People used to come here before making a pilgrimage to Mecca.”
The Orthodox Church suffered the same fate there, notes Sertac Paul Bozkurt, a member of the council that manages this place of worship.
“All the walls have collapsed and it is not able to accommodate prayers,” he laments.
Very difficult situation in Syria
In Syria, the situation remains very difficult.
Bab-al-Hawa in the north-west remains the only functioning border crossing from Turkey to rebel-held areas also devastated by the earthquake.
Trucks, carrying enough on board to make shelters out of plastic sheeting, blankets, mattresses, rope, or even screws and nails, crossed the border.
Insufficient aid, admitted the UN.
“So far we have failed the people of north-west Syria,” admitted UN agency head Martin Griffiths. “They rightly feel let down” and it is important to “correct this omission as soon as possible”.
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Sunday and said the latter had expressed a willingness to consider opening new border crossings to transport aid to rebel-held areas .
According to Suleiman Khalil, an official with the Syrian Ministry of Transport, 62 planes loaded with aid have landed in Syria so far and more are expected in the coming hours and days, particularly from Saudi Arabia.
According to the latest official reports, the February 6 earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 killed at least 35,224 people: 31,643 in southern Turkey and 3,581 in Syria. The UN said on Sunday that the toll could “double”.