ANTAKYA: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces devastated by two earthquakes that killed more than 5,100 people and left a trail of destruction across a wide area of southern Turkiye and neighbouring Syria.
A day after the quakes hit, rescuers working in harsh conditions were struggling to dig people out of the rubble of collapsed buildings in a “race against time”.
As the scale of the disaster became ever more apparent, the death toll looked likely to rise considerably. One United Nations official said it was feared thousands of children may have been killed.
Thousands of buildings were toppled, hospitals and schools wrecked and tens of thousands of people were injured or left homeless in several Turkish and Syrian cities by the magnitude 7.8 quake – the deadliest in Turkey since 1999 – and a second one hours later.
Bitter winter weather hampered rescue efforts and the delivery of aid, and made the plight of the homeless even more miserable. Some areas were without fuel and electricity.
Aid officials voiced particular concern about the situation in Syria, already afflicted by a humanitarian crisis after nearly 12 years of civil war.
In a speech on Tuesday, Erdogan declared the 10 Turkish provinces affected as a disaster zone and imposed a state of emergency in the region for three months. This will permit the president and cabinet to bypass parliament in enacting new laws and to limit or suspend rights and freedoms.
The government planned to open up hotels in the tourism hub of Antalya, to the west, to temporarily house people impacted by the quakes, said Erdogan, who faces a national election in three months’ time.
The death toll in Turkey had risen to 3,549 people, Erdogan said. In Syria, the toll stood at just over 1,600, according to the government and a rescue service in the insurgent-held northwest.