US Secretary of State Antony Blinken toured Turkey’s catastrophic quake damage Sunday as the devastated country’s rescue efforts turned to recovery missions in nearly all its provinces.
Blinken flew over some of the region’s hardest-hit areas with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu while pledging an additional $100 million in aid.
Duel quakes measuring magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.5 have killed more than 46,000 people in Turkey and part of Syria so far — with the death toll only set to rise. An untold number of people are still unaccounted in the ruins of hundreds of thousands of apartments.
“This is going to be a long-term effort,” Blinken told rescue workers at the joint US-Turkish Incirlik Air Base. “The search and rescue, unfortunately, is coming to an end. The recovery is on, and then there will be a massive rebuilding operation.”
Incirlik is serving as a key logistics base for the distribution of aid supplies from around the world. Supplies have been dispatched by both trucks and helicopters to remote areas that are hard to reach because of infrastructure damage.
The promised additional humanitarian aid comes after President Biden announced $85 million in relief when the quake struck. The new money will consist of $50 million in emergency refugee and migration funds and $50 million in humanitarian assistance, Blinken said.
The secretary’s trip marked his first visit to Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, since taking office two years ago.
He toured the country’s southernmost Hatay Province in a helicopter with Cavusoglu before expected meetings with service personnel and military families.
The mayor of the province, Lutfu Savas, said Sunday that 21,000 people are confirmed dead so far in the region, accounting for more than half of the roughly 40,000 reported fatalities in Turkey.
On Sunday, nearly two weeks after the cataclysm, Turkish rescue efforts only continued in Hatay and Kahramanmaras, the site of the epicenter.
Three members of a family — a 12-year-old boy and his parents — were found alive in the rubble by rescuers Saturday in Hatay. The boy later died.
“We continue these efforts every day with the hope of reaching a living brother or sister,” Savas said.
Blinken said after his tour, “When you see the extent of the damage, the number of buildings, the number of apartments, the number of homes that have been destroyed, it’s going to take a massive effort to rebuild.
“The most important thing right now is to get assistance to people who need it, to get them through the winter and to get them back on their feet. We’ll stick with it until we get the job done.”
More than 6,000 aftershocks had been reported in the area affected by the quakes, officials said. About 20,662 buildings in Turkey were completely demolished, and 105,794 others were so damaged they would need to be destroyed, according to Turkey’s Environment and Urbanization Ministry.
Officials in Turkey last week issued more than 100 arrest warrants for contractors allegedly involved in the shoddy construction of collapsed buildings that crushed their occupants.
The full scope of the disaster in civil-war-torn Syria will take longer to be realized, as international aid workers were still having trouble accessing the border to help hundreds of thousands of displaced residents in both opposition-held and government-controlled areas.
Blinken was set to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Monday to discuss the relief mission and Turkey’s opposition to Sweden and Finland joining the 30-member NATO alliance. Sweden has accepted separatist Kurdish refugees, and it and Findland have refused to send arms to Turkey during its ongoing offense against Kurdish militants in Syria, according to Defense News.
Meanwhile, a 17-year-old boy who made what he thought would be a final farewell video message to his friends and family while trapped in the rubble of his home Feb. 6 has captured the hearts of the nation after the message was shared following his rescue.
Taha Erdem was sleeping in his hometown of Adiyaman when the quake plunged him and his family down from their bedrooms into the rubble of their collapsing building.
“I think this is the last video I will ever shoot for you,” Erdem told the camera from inside a mangled mess of concrete and steel as his also-trapped neighbors were heard screaming in terror and pain.
“We are still shaking. Death, my friends, comes at a time when one is least expecting it.” Erdem said, before reciting a Muslim prayer in Arabic.
“There are many things that I regret. May God forgive me of all my sins. If I get out of here alive today there are many things that I want to do. We are still shaking, yes. My hand isn’t shaking, it’s just the earthquake.”
The teen was rescued two hours later and taken to his aunt’s house.
His parents and siblings were safely pulled from the rubble within 10 hours by neighbors who dug into the rubble with makeshift tools and their bare hands.
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