Pakistan despatches rescue team as death toll in Turkiye-Syria quake cross 5,200

— PM Shehbaz set to depart for Turkiye to express solidarity today

— PM Relief Fund established for assistance to victims

ISLAMABAD: Overwhelmed rescuers struggled to save people trapped under the rubble as the death toll from a devastating earthquake in Turkiye and Syria surpassed 5,200 on Tuesday, with despair mounting and the scale of the disaster hampering relief efforts.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces devastated by two earthquakes that killed more than 5,200 people and left a trail of destruction across a wide area of southern Turkiye and neighbouring Syria.

An official 51-member Pakistani rescue team was also set to touchdown in Istanbul today, federal minister Saad Rafiq said on Twitter.

A relief fund for the earthquake victims of Turkiye was formally established under the direction of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday. PM Shehbaz is set to depart for Turkiye to express solidarity today.

A notification in this regard was issued by the Office of the Controller General of Accounts. The fund “G-12166” was created under the title “PM’s Relief Fund for Turkiye Earthquake victims’.

Earlier, during a federal cabinet meeting, the prime minister had announced the establishment of the relevant relief fund for the quake affected people of Turkiye, PM Office Media Wing said in a press release.

The prime minister appealed to the philanthropists, institutions and general public to make generous donations to the newly established account under ‘PM Relief Fund for Turkiye Earthquake Victims”.

The prime minister observed that a 7.9 magnitude quake had brought huge destruction in the brotherly country of Turkiye in which thousands of people lost their lives, the press release said.

Turkiye had always supported the national interests of Pakistan and its people in difficulties with generous and sincere help. During the 2005 quake, and during 2010 and 2022 floods devastation, Turkiye had supported Pakistan with generosity.

Expressing solidarity with the people of Turkiye, the prime minister further said that in this difficult situation, the government and people of Pakistan would extend all possible support to their Turkish brothers and sisters.

He said helping the people of Turkiye was also their religious duty.

In the Turkish city of Antakya near the Syrian border, where 10-storey buildings had crumbled onto the streets, Reuters journalists saw rescue work being conducted on one out of dozens of mounds of rubble.



The temperature was close to freezing as the rain came down and there was no electricity or fuel in the city.

The magnitude 7.8 quake hit Turkiye and neighbouring Syria early on Monday, toppling thousands of buildings including many apartment blocks, wrecking hospitals, and leaving thousands of people injured or homeless.

In Turkiye, the death toll climbed to 3,381 people, Turkiye’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said.

The death toll in Syria, already devastated by more than 11 years of war, stands at more than 1,500, according to the Syrian government and a rescue service in the insurgent-held northwest.

Rescuers in Turkey and Syria braved frigid weather, aftershocks and collapsing buildings Tuesday, as they dug for survivors buried by an earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people.

Disaster agencies said several thousand buildings were flattened in cities across a vast border region — pouring misery on an area already plagued by war, insurgency, refugee crises and a recent cholera outbreak.

Through the night, survivors used their bare hands to pick over the twisted ruins of multi-storey apartment blocks — trying to save family, friends and anyone else sleeping inside when the first massive 7.8-magnitude quake struck early Monday.

“Where is my mum?” asked a distraught seven-year-old girl who was pulled — her face, hair and pyjamas covered in dust — from a collapsed building in Hatay, on the Turkish side of the border.

The sense of disbelief was widespread, as residents struggled to comprehend the scale of the disaster.

Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the quake’s epicentre between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, a city of two million where entire blocks now lie in ruins under gathering snow.

As residents tried to clear a mountain of masonry, plasterboard and furniture that had been a multi-story building, another collapsed nearby — sending crowds screaming and clamouring for safety.

With aftershocks rattling the area, many terrified and exhausted survivors spent the night outdoors, too afraid to go home.

‘Can’t go home’

Some huddled under bus shelters, some wrapped themselves in plastic to repel the freezing rain and others burned debris to keep warm.

Mustafa Koyuncu packed his wife and their five children into their parked car.

“We can’t go home,” the 55-year-old told AFP. “Everyone is afraid.”

Turkey put the latest death toll at 3,419 in that country alone — bringing the confirmed tally in both Turkey and Syria to 5,021.

There are fears that the toll will rise inexorably, with World Health Organisation (WHO) officials estimating up to 20,000 may have died.

“There is a family I know under the rubble,” said 20-year-old student Omer El Cuneyd in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa.

“Until 11:00 am or noon, my friend was still answering the phone. But she no longer answers. She is down there.”

Overwhelmed medics struggled to treat the estimated 20,000 injured.

The initial earthquake was so powerful it was felt as far away as Greenland and was followed by a series of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude tremor that struck in the middle of search and rescue work on Monday.

All and any

The impact was devastating and sparked a global response, with dozens of nations from Ukraine to New Zealand vowing to send help.

But a winter blizzard has covered major roads into the area in ice and snow and officials said three major airports have been rendered inoperable, complicating deliveries of vital aid.

Much of the quake-hit area of northern Syria has already been decimated by years of war and aerial bombardment by Syrian and Russian forces that destroyed homes, hospitals and clinics.

The conflict is already shaping the emergency response, with Syria’s envoy to the United Nations, Bassam Sabbagh, seemingly ruling out reopening border crossings that would allow aid to reach areas controlled by rebel groups.

The Syrian health ministry reported damage across the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Tartus, where Russia is leasing a naval facility.

Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo — Syria’s pre-war commercial hub — often collapsed due to the dilapidated infrastructure.

Officials cut off natural gas and power supplies across the region as a precaution, and also closed schools for two weeks.

The UN cultural agency UNESCO expressed fears over heavy damage in two cities on its heritage list — Aleppo in Syria and Diyarbakir in Turkey.

At a jail holding mostly Islamic State group members in northwestern Syria, prisoners mutinied after the quakes, with at least 20 escaping, a source at the facility told AFP.

Offers of help

The United States, the European Union and Russia all sent condolences and offers of help.

President Joe Biden promised his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the United States will send “any and all” aid needed to help recover from a devastating earthquake.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky offered to provide “the necessary assistance” to Turkey, whose combat drones are helping Kyiv fight the Russian invasion.

Chinese state media said on Tuesday that Beijing was sending rescuers, medical teams and other supplies.

Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

The Turkish region of Duzce suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999, when more than 17,000 people died.

Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.


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