Turkey-Syria earthquake search intensifies as death toll passes 5,000

Death toll is climbing as rescuers, including Israeli specialists, struggle to pull more survivors from the rubble. 

By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff

A frantic race was underway Tuesday to find more survivors and help the injured as the death toll from the devastating earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria the previous day passed 5,000. The toll is likely to climb further as freezing weather and multiple aftershocks are hampering the rescue efforts — despite international assistance.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 afflicted provinces, which would facilitate management of the emergency response.

In a televised address Tuesday, Erdogan described the earthquake as “unique in the world” and thanked Qatar for offering 10,000 container homes for people left homeless.

Also Tuesday, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said it was assessing requests for help made through social media postings and relaying the information to rescue teams.

Many people have gone on social media to call for assistance for loved ones believed trapped following the quake that struck Turkey and Syria. There were a few unconfirmed reports of victims requesting help from beneath the rubble.

Meanwhile, 13 people were being investigated for alleged “provocative” social media postings concerning the earthquake that authorities said aimed to foment “fear and panic,” news reports said

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Rescuers have been struggling to pull more survivors from the rubble as cold, snowy conditions shorten the time available to save lives.

The earthquake wreaked new damage and suffering in Syria’s last rebel-held enclave after years of fighting and bombardment.

IDF’s ‘Olive Branch’ humanitarian aid

On Monday night, Israel began sending rescue workers and emergency medical responders to Turkey, led by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces. Teams from Magen David Adom and United Hatzalah of Israel are sending relief teams as well.

United Hatzalah sent a delegation of 25 first responders and experts in search and rescue operations together with 10 tons of medical supplies and humanitarian aid to Turkey on a special charter flight Tuesday afternoon. The delegation includes doctors, paramedics, EMTs, and members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, which specializes in stabilizing people suffering from psychological and emotional trauma, together with members of the Israeli Search and Rescue units. It will be led by United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Major (res.) Yossi Cohen, a reservist in the Home Front Command’s Liaison Unit.

Israel will also assist Syria, an enemy country. “Since a request was also received to do this – for the many who were injured in the earthquake in Syria, I have instructed that this be done as well,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated.

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According to a report by Channel 13, the request for Israeli aid to Syria was delivered via Moscow.

The Jewish Federations of North America has launched a relief fund to provide humanitarian aid to the two countries. IsraAID, which has provided relief in the aftermath of earthquakes in Haiti, Indonesia and elsewhere, said it too will assist.