Syrian volunteers expecting ‘dramatic’ death toll surge in coming days

Earthquake: Man rescued from rubble in Salqin, Syria

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Some 11,000 people are believed to be dead after an earthquake hit southern Turkey and war-ravaged North Western Syria this week. The hope of rescuing more people from beneath fallen buildings is gradually waning as volunteers struggle to tear through heavy rubble. The earthquake, which hit the region in the early hours of Monday morning, reached a dangerously high magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale.

More than 100 aftershocks have hit the area since then, including a 7.6 magnitude tremor.

Volunteers like the Syrian-based White Helmets are racing against the clock to save as many people as possible before time runs out.

Oubadah Alwan, media developer at the White Helmets, told that the workers had been dispatched to north-western Syria quickly after the first quake struck.

He said they have struggled with a lack of available aid due to sanctions on Syria.

Describing the scenes witnessed by first responders, Mr Alwan said: “Right now, the situation is very, very bleak.

“Catastrophic doesn’t even begin to describe what they’re dealing with.

“At the moment, something like over 400 buildings destroyed. Over 1,000 people are dead and over 2,000 injured, the last time I checked. And this is just from what we’ve been able to kind of report.”

Shelter is scarce, and thousands of people in the region are unable to safely take cover.

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Mr Alwan continued: “There’s no safe zone, there’s no place to safety. Our volunteers are working on getting people out from under the rubble, but the question is — what next? There’s nowhere for these people to go.

“We’re dealing with this in the middle of a very harsh winter, so people are out in the streets in the freezing cold. They’re homeless.

“Medical facilities are at their capacity and they’re not able to deal with the kind of scale of the tragedy and then on top of that, there’s a severe lack of, or basically zero humanitarian aid that’s entering north-west Syria.

“So there’s a lack of tools. There’s a lack of medicine. There’s a lack of everything. Right now, people are in survival mode.”


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He said he expects a “dramatic” increase in the death toll in the coming days.

Currently, the White Helmets have around 3,000 volunteers trying to help some four million people.

“It is just absolutely above the scale and capacity that these rescue workers on the ground can deal with,” Mr Alwan said.

Photos and videos of the rescue efforts have flooded social media. One showed a newborn girl saved from beneath the rubble of a building in north-west Syria whose mother died shortly after giving birth. The girl’s father, four siblings and an aunt were also killed.

Another image showed a man grasping the hand of his dead daughter, trapped beneath the rubble.

Some children have, however, been rescued. Almost 48 hours after an apartment building collapsed in Kahramanmaras, a Turkish city close to the epicentre of the earthquake, a three-year-old was pulled from the rubble. His father, Ertugrul Kisi, had also been trapped and freed.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced it was travelling to Turkey and Syria in order to provide medical supplies.

The United Nations’ (UN) resident Syria coordinator, El-Mostafa Benlamlih, told the AFP that politics must be “put aside” and aid provided to Syria.

He added: “We can’t afford to wait and negotiate. By the time we negotiate, it’s done, it’s finished.”

Governments and organisations around the world have sent Turkey aid and teams of rescuers to help with the efforts.

It is now hoped that aid will break through to Syria despite ongoing diplomatic tensions with the Bashar al-Assad regime.

On Tuesday, the UK announced it would send more than 70 rescue specialists and sniffer dogs to help with the rescue efforts.

Speaking to Sky News, cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell said that while Britain’s development budget was under “very considerable strain”, the country would still be there to “help”.

Writing for on the same day, he set out exactly what help the UK Government is sending to Turkey and Syria.

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