Search and rescue work to end as quake-hit Turkey moves to shelter homeless

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Turkish authorities have almost completed search and rescue work nearly two weeks after massive earthquakes that claimed more than 40,000 lives in the country, a Turkish disaster agency said Sunday.

Search and rescue are still underway in 40 buildings of two heavily-damaged southern provinces, Hatay and Kahramanmaras, head of Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) Yunus Sezer, said at a press conference.

Works in the other quake-hit regions now focused on debris removal, sheltering the homeless, and infrastructure preparations, the AFAD chief said.

The death toll from two major earthquakes that struck southern Turkey on Feb. 6 has risen to 40,689, Sezer noted.

The figure is likely to increase further as search teams pull out more bodies. Rescue teams have not found any survivors in the past 24 hours.

The quake zone is estimated to have a population of 13.5 million, and many of them are now homeless, as their houses have either collapsed or are too dangerous to get in.

The Turkish government, along with local and international aid organizations, has launched a massive relief effort.

The authorities are working to provide more temporary accommodation with tents and containers, while many survivors are still taking shelter in hotels, dormitories, gyms, and train cars under low temperatures, if not evacuated to the other parts of the country.

More than 6,000 containers have been installed so far, the infrastructure works for the establishment of 68,000 containers are about to be completed and the aim is to set up 100,000 containers within two months, Sezer said, adding that nearly 250,000 tents were already in use.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that 2.2 million people had left the disaster zone.

However, many survivors prefer to stay close to their houses to protect their possessions, while some others are waiting for debris removal to recover the bodies of their relatives.

The AFAD issued a circular on Sunday saying entrance is not allowed for the destroyed buildings, and possessions collection will be carried out under the supervision of security forces.

Local authorities have started disinfecting debris areas and trash cans to prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases.

No outbreaks of infectious diseases have been detected to date in the quake zone, said Turkish Health Minister, while the ministry warned people against drinking tap water.

A magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck Turkey’s southern province of Kahramanmaras at 4:17 a.m. local time (0117 GMT), followed by a magnitude 6.4 quake a few minutes later in the country’s southern province of Gaziantep and a magnitude 7.6 earthquake at 1:24 p.m. local time (1024 GMT) in the Kahramanmaras Province.

The quake-hit region in southern Turkey is home to millions of Syrian refugees that fled their country after a civil war erupted in 2011.

Turkey hosts nearly 3.5 million Syrian refugees, roughly half of them have been taking shelter in the region hit by devastating quakes.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Sunday that at least 10,633 Syrian refugees in the country have returned to their homeland voluntarily after the quakes.

“Our Syrian brothers, who lost their families and places of stay in the earthquake, returned to their lands voluntarily,” Akar said during his visit to the military border outposts in the quake-hit southern province of Hatay.

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