We are Dicle University Lawyers Club student volunteers who were caught in the earthquake in Diyarbakır and went to Adıyaman, Pazarcık and Hatay to show solidarity after Diyarbakır’s wounds were healed. We believe that, after the first shock of the earthquakes of 7.7 and 7.6, which caused great destruction in Turkey and the north of Syria, have been overcome, we have reached a time when we can better review and evaluate what has been going on since the first day during the humanitarian aid, and search and rescue works.
Although the deficiencies in the coordination point were expressed by all parties working in the field, a more grave situation was in question on the day of the earthquake and the next morning. The State, and therefore the non-regional public, had yet to fully grasp the disaster’s extent.
As a matter of fact, in the last hours of February 6, “Everywhere is under control and everywhere has been accessed“, said Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) Earthquake and Risk Reduction General Manager Orhan Tatar and AFAD President Yunus Sezer stated: “There isn’t any region that we didn’t access.”
Understanding the extent of the disaster
While having a disinformative aspect imposed by politics as a result of public reaction, this and similar statements also revealed that the institutions and administrators who were officially assigned to address disasters missed or failed to grasp the extent of the disaster. In our estimation, even the institution that would have played a leading role in managing the disaster and the post-disaster crisis estimated that the aftermaths would be similar to the 6.5 quake in Elazig in 2020, in which 44 citizens lost their lives.
If we recall, the number of debris from the earthquake in Elazig was much less by comparison. The search and rescue teams in the surrounding provinces were immediately sent to the city. Search and rescue operations were started immediately. Ministers monitored the disaster management efforts closely, and the press was informed that “everything was under control.”
The public became aware of the extent of the destruction caused by the earthquakes in Hatay and Kahramanmaraş only after non-governmental organisations and volunteers reached the region. The extent of the disaster was only revealed after Gaziantep Mayor Fatma Şahin‘s statement to the press, “There is no half of the town with a population of 60 thousand“, and the confession of the coordinator governors that the death toll was five times the number announced.
Since these earthquakes were mega earthquakes that happened under the city and caused great destruction in the surrounding provinces, the neighbouring cities couldn’t provide help quickly in the first place. As a matter of fact, the first team arriving in Iskenderun was from Tekirdag, one of the provinces that can be considered almost the other end of the country, and only able to reach the region after 22 hours. The situation was no different in Hatay and Kahramanmaraş. In addition to the inadequacy of the first search and rescue teams that arrived, even these teams could reach the area only after 24 hours. The teams we interviewed who worked in the rubbles in Kahramanmaraş and Hatay said, “Each team was able to carry search and rescue operation for survivors in three or four debris at most. And no search and rescue operation started in most of the rubbles.” The teams stated that the excavators started removing the rubble from the debris at the end of the 72nd hour. Therefore, even if there are survivors after this stage, it is only left to the excavator operator’s attention. The excavators’ attempt to remove the debris without adequate search and rescue activities prevented the professional teams from removing people from the rubbles with meticulous work. The teams stated that they were worried that this would lead to losing the integrity of the funeral and result in a terrible “number of lost bodies”. They are concerned that this number may be much higher than the number of missing people (around 10,000) reported in the 1999 earthquake.
In Adıyaman, where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asked for writing off his debts by saying, “Unfortunately, we could not carry out the work we wanted in Adıyaman for the first few days,” there was almost no search and rescue work for 72 hours. Moreover, the city was also faced with a lack of humanitarian aid. Attorney Ahmet Taş, registered with Şanlıurfa Bar Association, stated in our interview that because Şanlıurfa was also affected by the quakes, people could only set out for Adıyaman “on the afternoon of the second day” with the blankets, food and water parcels they provided by their own means. For a while, Adıyaman could only get aid from Şanlıurfa, organised by individual efforts. It is said that aid trucks from different cities reached Adıyaman only on the 4th day.