The death toll from earthquakes in Turkey and Syria has risen to almost 8,000 and tens of thousands have been injured, authorities said, as frantic rescue efforts dragged into a third day after one of the region’s worst disasters in decades.
Rescue teams worked through the night to pull survivors from the rubble in southern Turkey and northern Syria, which was rocked by two strong earthquakes and a series of aftershocks on Monday. Local television and newspapers showed harrowing scenes of the victims of the disaster, highlighting the growing toll across the region.
The death toll in Turkey reached 5,894 on Wednesday, with 34,810 injured, according to authorities. In Syria, more than 2,000 people have been killed in the rebel-held northwest, according to government and civil defense officials.
The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, declared a state of emergency in the affected areas on Tuesday, giving the government comprehensive authority to deal with the crisis. According to state media, Erdoğan visited the affected region on Wednesday.
More than 10,000 people are involved in rescue operations, but freezing weather conditions, snow and poor infrastructure make it a challenge to transport heavy machinery, personnel and relief supplies.
“The scale of the disaster is catastrophic,” said Tanya Evans, Syria director of the US-based International Rescue Committee, adding that the quakes and aftershocks “damaged roads, border crossings and critical infrastructure, severely hampering relief efforts.”
The United States, United Kingdom, India and China have sent rescue teams to Turkey to help local response efforts, and domestic and international aid agencies are providing personnel and materials. The UN announced on Tuesday that it will support aid operations with 25 million dollars.
“As people in the region deal with the devastating consequences of this tragedy, we want to let them know they are not alone,” said Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
Experts say the poor quality of construction and the region’s lack of resilience against earthquakes contributed to the damage. Thousands of structures collapsed after Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake, one of the worst natural disasters in modern Turkey’s history, was followed hours later by a second 7.5-magnitude quake.
“This is a very dangerous construction site and this is an important feature of it,” said Caroline McMullan, director of risk management firm Verisk in London. “In the future, he will place great emphasis on the quality of building design.”
Verisk estimates that the global insurance industry could suffer billions of euros in losses as a result of the disaster. Robert Muir-Wood, director of research at Moody’s RMS, another risk modeling provider, estimated that Turkey’s public-private earthquake insurance scheme could reach up to $1 billion, shared with international reinsurers.
Major European insurers Allianz and Axa, which have subsidiaries in Turkey, said it was too early to estimate losses, a message echoed by reinsurer Munich Re, one of Europe’s biggest.
An Allianz spokesman said the group’s earthquake risks were “generally well reinsured”.
The expected economic loss has already caused confusion in the Turkish stock market, with the benchmark Bist 100 index falling 8.6 percent on Tuesday, twice tripping “circuit breakers” designed to ease panic selling. Tuesday’s slide was the market’s steepest in two years, with 2023 down 18 percent.
More reports from Raya Jalabi in Ankara