ANKARA, February 20: Turkish authorities have nearly completed search and rescue work nearly two weeks after massive earthquakes that claimed more than 40,000 lives in the country, a Turkish disaster agency said on Sunday.
Search and rescue is still underway in 40 buildings in two badly damaged southern provinces, Hatay and Kahramanmaras, Turkish Emergency and Disaster Management Authority (AFAD) head Yunus Sezer told a news conference.
Works in the other quake-hit regions have now focused on rubble removal, housing homeless people and preparing infrastructure, the AFAD chief said.
The death toll from two major earthquakes that struck south Türkiye on February 6 rose to 40,689, Sezer noted.
The number is likely to rise further as search teams pull up more bodies. Rescue teams have found no survivors in the last 24 hours.
The earthquake zone is estimated to have a population of 13.5 million, and many of them are now homeless as their houses have collapsed or are too dangerous to enter.
The Turkish government, together with local and international aid organizations, has launched a massive relief effort.
Authorities are working to provide more temporary accommodation with tents and containers, while many survivors are still sheltering in hotels, dormitories, gyms and train carriages in the freezing temperatures, if they are not evacuated to other parts of the country.
More than 6,000 containers have been installed so far, the infrastructure works for the establishment of 68,000 containers are nearing completion, and the goal is to install 100,000 containers in two months, Sezer said, adding that about 250,000 tents have already they were in use.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that 2.2 million people had left the disaster area.
However, many survivors prefer to stay close to their homes to protect their belongings, while others wait for the rubble to be cleared to recover the bodies of their relatives.
AFAD issued a circular on Sunday saying that entry to the destroyed buildings is not allowed and that the collection of belongings will be carried out under the supervision of security forces.
Local authorities have begun disinfecting rubble areas and garbage cans to prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases.
No infectious disease outbreaks have been detected so far in the quake zone, Turkey’s health minister said, while the ministry warned people not to drink tap water.
A 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck the southern Türkiye province of Kahramanmaras at 4:17 a.m. local time (01:17 GMT), followed by a 6.4-magnitude quake a few minutes later in the province. of Gaziantep, in the south of the country, and another of magnitude 7.6 at 1:24 pm time (1024 GMT) in the province of Kahramanmaras.
The earthquake-hit region in southern Türkiye is home to millions of Syrian refugees who fled their country after a civil war broke out in 2011.
Türkiye is home to nearly 3.5 million Syrian refugees, about half of whom have taken refuge in the region hit by devastating earthquakes.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Sunday that at least 10,633 Syrian refugees in the country have voluntarily returned to their homeland after the earthquakes.
“Our Syrian brothers, who lost their families and places of stay in the earthquake, voluntarily returned to their lands,” Akar said during his visit to military border posts in the quake-hit southern province of Hatay.