An IDF rescue team alongside IsraAid, Israel’s leading non-governmental humanitarian aid group, arrived in Turkey after a massive earthquake struck near the country’s border with Syria early Monday morning.
Turkish journalist Rafael Sadi told us that “10 cities in Turkey were almost erased. At this time, nearly 15,000 people are confirmed dead, but the death toll can reach 50,000 or more.”
Azerbaijani journalist Elnur Enveroglu reported, “Many more dead bodies are expected to be uncovered under the debris. People are suffering from severe cold and massive destruction.”
Along with Israel, Azerbaijan was one of the first country’s to send aid.
Turkish security analyst Bartu Eken stressed: “Search and rescue efforts are currently ongoing. Many households could not be reached. People are struggling with the cold and hunger. The Turkish people are making great efforts, but will it be enough? At least 10,000 buildings were destroyed. It was one of the biggest earthquakes in Turkish history. The shaking, which lasted for one minute, brought about great destruction. This also tested the robustness of buildings in the country.”
A Turkish source who spoke on the condition of anonymity added: “I have the misfortune of indirectly experiencing two earthquakes in Turkey, in 1999 and 2023. As I write this, I am waiting to hear about the whereabouts of a friend who is currently under the rubble. I am feeling deep despair. I am seeing documentation of a city that is completely flattened.”
The source complained that Turkey was woefully unprepared for such an earthquake, despite knowing it was inevitable. The same concerns are now being raised in Israel.
Devastated Jewish community
Sadi told Israel Today that “the most damaged city is Hatay, and unfortunately the leader of the Jewish community, Shaul Cenedioglu, and his wife are lost and cannot be reached. Leaders of the Turkish Jewish community arrived in Hatay and were able to get the last members of the Hatay Jewish community out and returned to Istanbul. With this, Jewish life in Hatay ended.”
The journalist added that it’s not only the number of dead that is worrying. There are an untold number of people still trapped alive or left homeless in the midst of difficult winter conditions.
“People are suffering under the ruins dead and alive, and many citizens are without homes, food or even warm clothes as their belongings were destroyed under the collapsed buildings,” he reported. “People cannot run away to other cities or zones because of the difficult winter season and many roads and bridges collapsed.”
Israeli teams warmly received
Eken said that many people in Turkey are delighted to see the Israeli aid and rescue teams: “Recently, there has been sympathy towards Israel in Turkey, especially among the younger generation.” According to Sadi, “Nearly 700 Israelis left to Turkey and started to save lives in the earthquake zone.”
Enveroglu added that the Turkish-Israeli friendship has a very long history: “Israel has always stood with Turkey. We believe that Israel has the latest technologies that can facilitate the rescue operation in the disaster zone. So many people are still alive underneath the debris. Many people have succumbed to death, unable to endure the severe cold.”
IsraAid representative Shachar May, who is on the ground in Turkey, reported upon her team’s arrival:
“We arrived at Gaziantep Airport yesterday and drove to Mirage. We arrived at midnight. It is very cold. We experienced several earthquakes during the night. Luckily, they were mild. We joined a camp of humanitarian aid organizations. At the base, there is also the Israeli Army and United Hatzalah.
“We already see leveled buildings. We can see numerous buildings that don’t look like buildings. We arrived with equipment to help respond. We have water filters, water testing kits and other things to set up drinkable water. We also offer support to displaced people and provide winter clothing and winter supplies. We are ready to respond on multiple fronts. However, the situation is dire. There is a lack of gas, water and electricity right now.”
New rescue technique
An Israeli search and rescue team working in the southern Turkish city of Marash (Kahramanmaraş) is trying an unusual method of reaching a victim underneath the rubble of a collapsed building after spending several hours unsuccessfully digging down and sideways towards him.
The team is now digging underneath the building with the plan to reach the man by drilling upwards.
The victim is a man in his 50s who has been able to speak to the rescuers.
Lives already saved
Israeli search and rescue workers have already rescued four Turks in other areas of Marash, including a 12-year-old boy and a 23-year-old woman who had been trapped in the rubble for nearly 48 hours.
“We are working around the clock to save lives and indeed we located two trapped under the rubble,” said Felix Lotan, a Magen David Adom paramedic who joined the Israeli search and rescue team. “The cold is very bitter so time is critical. We are doing everything we can to save as many lives as possible in the complex conditions.”
The story of the young Turkish woman saved by Israeli teams mentioned above is representative of the harrowing conditions faced by victims and rescuers.
The following account was written by Dr. Itai Basel, a pediatrician at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem who is currently on the ground in Turkey as a volunteer with the United Hatzalah rescue team:
“Last night in the middle of the night, I was woken up by an emergency request to provide medical treatment for a young woman who the Israeli Search and Rescue team managed to pull out of the rubble from a collapsed building in Kahrmanmaras in Turkey.
“The search teams had located her alive and buried inside the building earlier in the day and spent 12 hours trying to get her out. As they were nearing the final steps of the rescue they called me and another United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Yossi Amar accompanied me and we set out to meet the team.
“The woman had been buried in the rubble for two days without access to food or water. She was very weak. The IDF Homefront Command Search and Rescue Unit had been conducting the effort to evacuate her while providing her with whatever medical care they could. They were making every effort to extricate her in a way that would allow her to survive the attempt while taking into account the injuries that she has already suffered during the collapse and exposure to the severe elements here.
“As the woman was finally freed from the rubble we immediately began treating her while she was being transported to the hospital. The trip to the hospital was not a short one as we needed to go to a hospital that had enough supplies and services to care for her out of the immediate disaster area. Our job was to make sure she stayed alive after she suffered so much already. We managed to stabilize her condition and when we arrived at the hospital, we immediately transferred her to the trauma care center. I am proud to have been part of this effort and to help this woman. She is one of many who need our help, but each is an entire world.”
IDF field hospital
Israeli and Turkish officials are considering where to place an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) field hospital which will be deployed in the coming days. The field hospital will be staffed by 230 doctors, nurses and paramedics.
Israeli army field hospitals are regularly deployed in disaster zones, and the speed and efficiency of the IDF teams have often meant the difference between life and death.
Meanwhile, Syria on Wednesday denied that it requested humanitarian assistance from Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel would also provide assistance to Syria after receiving a request conveyed through a third-party.
Netanyahu did not specify who passed along the request, but Hebrew media reports said it was Russia. The Hebrew reports said Israel would provide medication, blankets and tents.
In 2016, Israel opened its field hospital in the Golan Heights to provide medical aid, fuel and other humanitarian aid for civilians caught up in the Syrian Civil War. The field hospital was closed after Bashar Assad’s regime re-established control of southern Syria in Sept. 2018.
It wasn’t only Israeli rescue forces that mobilized in response to the tragedy in Turkey and Syria. Local high schools and community centers also jumped into action by collecting blankets and warm clothing to aid the earthquake survivors.
The goods are being gathered by Israeli students and volunteers, and will be shipped to the earthquake zone by the IDF and other rescue organizations.
With reporting by TPS and United Hatzalah.
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