President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has visited the region of southern Turkey devastated by this week’s earthquake as the death toll rose above 11,000 and acknowledged that his government faced problems getting aid to victims.
Mr Erdogan called for national “unity” as the huge rescue effort in Turkey and neighbouring Syria following Monday’s 7.8 magnitude quake stretched into a third day.
The Turkish leader said more than 9,000 people were confirmed dead in Turkey, and authorities reported that 52,000 were injured after the biggest natural disaster to strike the region in decades. More than 2,600 people are also confirmed dead in Syria, according to reports from the government and civil defence officials in the rebel-controlled northwest.
Visiting the quake-hit city of Kahramanmaras, Mr Erdogan admitted there had been problems at airports and with blocked roads, but vowed the situation would improve. His comments came a day after he declared a state of emergency in the disaster area, giving the government sweeping powers to address the crisis.
Mr Erdogan has faced criticism for what some see as his government’s slow response to the earthquake, with many rescue workers struggling to get to some of the hardest-hit regions. He told Turkish residents not to listen to “provocateurs” and instead focus just on official communications channels.
Rescue teams worked through the night to pull survivors from the rubble in towns and cities across southern Turkey and northern Syria. Local television stations and newspapers showed harrowing scenes of disaster victims that underscored the mounting toll across the region.
“The scale of the disaster is catastrophic,” said Tanya Evans, Syria country director for the US-based International Rescue Committee, adding that the earthquakes and aftershocks had “damaged roads, border crossings and critical infrastructure, severely hampering aid efforts”.
Countries including the US, UK, India and China have sent rescue teams to Turkey to assist local response efforts, while domestic and international aid agencies are providing personnel and materials.
However, hopes of finding more survivors trapped in the rubble of thousands of buildings toppled by the huge earthquake were fading on Wednesday.
Search teams from more than two dozen countries have joined tens of thousands of local emergency personnel, and aid pledges have poured in from around the world. But the scale of destruction from the earthquake and its powerful aftershocks was so immense – and spread so wide, including in areas isolated by Syria’s ongoing civil war – that many were still waiting for help.
In the Turkish city of Malatya bodies were placed side by side on the ground, covered in blankets, while rescuers waited for funeral vehicles to pick them up, according to former journalist Ozel Pikal, who saw eight bodies pulled from the ruins of a building.
Experts said the low quality of construction and lack of earthquake resilience in the region contributed to the destruction. Thousands of structures collapsed after the earthquake on Monday – one of the worst natural disasters in the history of modern Turkey, and which was followed hours later by a second, 7.5 magnitude tremor.
“There will be a lot of focus in the aftermath on that building design quality,” said Caroline McMullan, a London-based director at risk management firm Verisk.
Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at Moody’s RMS, another risk modelling provider, estimated that Turkey’s public-private earthquake insurance scheme could suffer a hit of up to $1 billion, which would be shared with international reinsurers. “This is really dangerous construction and that is a significant feature of this,” he said.
Big European insurers Allianz and Axa, which have Turkish subsidiaries, said it was too early to estimate losses.
– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023/Additional reporting: AP