'It's just disaster after disaster. Any problem trying to be dealt with, they're inhibited by another.'
By Olivia Condon
Another earthquake, and a series of powerful aftershocks, have struck the regions of southern Turkey and northern Syria where at least two Albertans have been working to support victims of the devastating 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude quakes that struck earlier this month.
The European Mediterranean Seismological Centre reported Monday that a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck 14 kilometres southwest of Antakya, near the Turkey-Syria border region.
The most recent quake comes exactly two weeks after massive quakes devastated the two countries on Feb. 6, reducing thousands of buildings to rubble and killing 45,000 people to date.
The mayor of Turkey’s Hatay province says a number of buildings have collapsed, trapping people inside. Turkey’s disaster management agency, AFAD, said the new quake was centred around the town of Defne, in Hatay province. It was followed by a second, magnitude 5.8 tremor.
Retiree, ER nurse among Albertans in Turkey with Samaritan’s Purse disaster response team
It comes as search and rescue efforts in regions hardest hit by the Feb. 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria. But treating injured survivors and supporting the area’s residents remain priorities for Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) members.
Among the nearly 100-member DART, two Albertans have been in the thick of it for more than a week, serving the organization’s field hospital in different roles.
Nick Oudshoorn is an emergency room nurse from Lethbridge. Like other members of the team, he arrived in Antakya on Feb. 12, just in time to get the hospital operational and treat the hundreds of patients that have been coming through its doors each day.
“When our team first got here, there were countless ambulances and helicopters (coming in), and we were sending people off to be triaged in the middle of a parking lot next to rows of dead bodies,” Oudshoorn said Friday from outside the field hospital.
“We’re seeing a lot of earthquake-related injuries, but also more complicated stuff like people not being able to get the medication they need for other illnesses.”
The 52-bed field hospital, which includes two emergency operating rooms and a pharmacy, arrived from the U.S. on Feb. 9 and was operational by Feb. 13.
As of Feb. 18, the hospital had served more than 500 patients and provided surgeries from its location next to the heavily damaged, non-operational Hatay State hospital.
Oudshoorn said the field hospital is serving people along with another small Turkish hospital, covering an area that normally has 22,000 patient beds. The devastation reveals itself in new ways every day, he said.
“It’s just disaster after disaster. Any problem trying to be dealt with, they’re inhibited by another, whether it be supply chain issues or loss of people.
“I learned today that one of the reasons our cleaning crew couldn’t get here as soon as we were hoping was because half of their staff was dead, but many of these people still show up to work smiling . . . That’s where they’re coming from.”
Ensuring medical staff have all the resources they need, Karen Livick, a retired Calgarian, manages the team’s finances.
She said partners, including the Turkish government, have helped make Samaritan’s Purse response efforts go smoothly, but it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s certainly not North America . . . There are challenges,” she said.
“In the midst of all the work (being done) I have had the opportunity to see translators that work alongside us come to help our staff and patients, but also behind the scenes get a chance to speak with them, many who have lost family and friends and their own belongings — but they’ve come here to help their country.”
Oudshoorn and Livick’s team will remain in Turkey until mid-March.
Death toll approaches 45,000
Before Monday’s quake, the Turkish disaster management agency, AFAD, had raised the number of confirmed fatalities from the earthquake in Turkey to 41,156, increasing the overall death toll in both Turkey and Syria to 44,844.
Search and rescue operations for survivors have been called off in most of the quake zone, but AFAD chief Yunus Sezer told reporters that search teams were pressing ahead with their efforts in more than a dozen collapsed buildings — most of them in the hardest-hit province of Hatay.
There were no signs of anyone being alive under the rubble since three members of one family — a mother, father and 12-year-old boy — were extracted from a collapsed building in Hatay on Saturday. The boy later died.
Reconstruction to begin in March
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces elections in May or June, says his country will start building tens of thousands of new homes as early as next month.
Erdogan said the new buildings will be no taller than three or four stories, built on firmer ground and to higher standards, and in consultation with “geophysics, geotechnical, geology and seismology professors” and other experts.
“We want to avoid disasters . . . by shifting our settlements away from the lowlands to the (more solid) mountains as much as possible,” Erdogan said in a televised address during a visit to Hatay province.
The Turkish leader said destroyed cultural monuments would be rebuilt in accordance with their “historic and cultural texture.”
Erdogan said around 1.6 million people are currently being housed in temporary shelters.