Rescuers carry a woman after she was evacuated from under a collapsed building following an earthquake in Kahramanmaras
Rescuers carry a woman after she was evacuated from under a collapsed building following an earthquake in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, February 7, 2023. Reuters

A day after a devastating earthquake tore through Turkey and northern Syria, rescue workers were still thin on the ground in Antakya, forcing residents to pick through rubble sometimes without even basic tools in a desperate hunt for survivors.

Trying to find family, friends and neighbours, dead or alive, people in the southern Turkish city are asking each other for helmets, hammers, iron rods and strong rope to lift debris as they wait for more help to arrive.

While countries have scrambled to answer Turkey's call to send rescue teams to the afflicted areas, an array of problems from freezing wintry conditions, destroyed roads and a scarcity of trucks and heavy machinery have hampered relief efforts.

The lack of help has already prompted scuffles between residents and rescue workers in Antakya, with people pleading with rescuers to save their loved ones. In the city's Kavasli neighbourhood, one woman, aged 54 and named Gulumser, was pulled alive from an 8-storey building 32 hours after the quake.

Another woman then shouted at the rescue workers: "My father was just behind that room she was in. Please save him." The rescue workers explained they could not reach the room from the front and needed an excavator to remove the wall first.

Elsewhere, drone footage above the city showed a lone man on top of a collapsed building, hammering at debris while others stood around him.

"I see people here complain about the scarcity of rescue efforts, but maybe it is because there are 10 cities affected by the quake and many, many rescue teams are needed," a rescue worker from Istanbul, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

"But we are doing our best, trying to save people."


Turkish authorities say more than 12,000 search and rescue personnel are working in the affected areas and another 9,000 troops. President Tayyip Erdogan called a state of emergency on Tuesday to bolster the responses.

But one major challenge is the sheer scale of the disaster over a large area, requiring a huge mobilisation of manpower to help look for survivors. Scant information has come out of some places, raising concern about the extent of the devastation that could yet be discovered.

Turkish authorities say some 13.5 million people were affected in an area spanning roughly 450 km (280 miles) from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east, and 300 km from Malatya in the north to Hatay in the south. Syrian authorities have reported deaths as far south as Hama, some 100 km from the epicentre.

"The area is enormous. I haven't seen anything like this before," said Johannes Gust, a worker from Germany's fire and rescue service, while loading equipment onto a truck at Turkey's Adana airport.

Another challenge is reaching the afflicted areas by road, Jens Laerke, Deputy Spokesperson of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told a UN briefing in Geneva.

"It is a disaster zone, if I ever saw one. Of course access by road is a challenge. There is a shortage of trucks to transport international teams to work on site," he said.

A senior official at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said reaching remote, rural parts of Syria was proving especially difficult.

"What is missing from the rescue effort at the minute is there are certain types of machinery that would help in terms of trying to help people that are trapped in rubble," Xavier Castellanos Mosquera told Reuters in an interview.

The Turkish authorities have declared a state of emergency and are using the airport in Adana as a logistics base. The airport became so congested that for example a team from Taiwan's fire service, consisting of 40 people and three search and rescue dogs, was stranded in Istanbul for hours on Tuesday waiting to take off.

Back in Antakya in the Hatay province, frustration was mounting.

"No aid, no electricity, no phone, no food since the quake rescue team just arrived this morning," said a woman called Kubra. "There used to be a clich? in Turkey 'Where is the state?' We are living this clich? now."