As the authorities and first responders struggle to care for survivors in Turkey and Syria, concerns are growing that winter weather conditions will make it even more difficult for earthquake survivors in the coming hours and days.
On Monday, February 6, two earthquakes rocked Turkey and Syria within the space of 12 hours.
On Tuesday, Turkey’s relief agency AFAD said there were 2,921 deaths in that country. The death toll in Syria stood at 1,444, bringing the number of confirmed deaths to 4,365.
Experts have warned that the harsh weather conditions in Turkey and Syria, including snowstorms, rain, and freezing temperatures could complicate rescue efforts and lead to a higher death toll.
Harsh Weather complicates earthquake rescue efforts
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that the cold winter conditions have made it harder for first responders to rescue survivors amid the wreckage, rubble, and devastation caused by the earthquake.
“Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts although the winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night makes things more difficult,” the Turkish president said.
Temperatures in some affected areas in southeastern Turkey are expected to fall close to freezing overnight. Rain fell on Monday after snowstorms blew across the country during the weekend.
All in all, the wintery weather conditions have made it more difficult for many survivors left without their homes in the aftermath of the earthquakes. For those still trapped under rubble and debris, the cold conditions could limit their chances of survival even more.
“The earthquake struck early in the morning when people will have been asleep at home and the weather is very cold meaning those trapped in rubble face the threat from low temperatures,” said Dr. Steven Godby, an expert in natural hazards at Nottingham Trent University.
Displacement in Syria
Conditions are also difficult in Syria. In the region of northern Syria impacted by heightened seismic activity, a league population of displaced people who were uprooted by the Syrian civil war already live precariously.
Now, disaster relief experts are worried that displaced people in northern Syria will be the most vulnerable to the devastation caused by the earthquakes.
“The first 24-48 hours is when most people are normally rescued in these situations, but the cold weather may reduce that time. The challenge is further compounded by the fact that there are already large numbers of displaced people in northern Syria as a result of the civil war,” Dr. Steven Godby said.
The International Rescue Committee, which provides humanitarian relief in opposition-held areas in northern Syria was already dealing with a cholera outbreak and preparing for expected snowstorms when the earthquake shook parts of the country. Now, the organization is worried that cold temperatures will worsen the plight of survivors.
The situation has been described as a “crisis within a crisis within a crisis,” by Mark Kaye, the International Rescue Committee’s Middle East advocacy director.
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