The word ‘disaster’ barely covers the situation in Türkiye and Syria after two huge earthquakes and multiple aftershocks struck on Monday (6 February 2023).
A 7.8 magnitude quake with its epicentre near Gaziantep in south-west Türkiye reverberated across the region in the early hours. A second quake, registering 7.5-magnitude, struck the following lunchtime, a few kilometres to the north. Seismologists have said the first quake was one of the largest ever recorded in the country. Witnesses say that the ground, buildings and everything around them shook violently for around two minutes during the first quake.
International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) affiliates in the region have reported that the earthquakes had a cruelly destructive nature: ten cities are within the most affected area; thousands of buildings have been destroyed including rail stations, road tunnels and port warehouses; the confirmed death toll has already passed 3,500 in both nations, although as the task of sifting through the rubble has only just started, officials have admitted the final death toll is likely be in the tens of thousands with many thousands injured.
Affiliate unions are already reporting many deaths among their members including at a block of rail workers’ flats which collapsed. Many more have lost their homes or places of work. Two airports are closed because of damage to their runways, while collapsed warehouses at İskenderun have put the port out of operation.
Rescue work, already hampered by winter weather in this mountainous region, is being made almost impossible by damage to the transport infrastructure. The motorway network through the mountains relies on a large number of tunnels, many of which have collapsed or been declared unsafe.
All four union confederations in Türkiye have set up crisis centres to collect information and marshal humanitarian support. Transport workers across the region stand ready to get aid and rescue workers to where they are needed.
“The situation is on the ground is heart-breaking, especially for people in this region as they come to terms with the complete devastation and loss of loved ones,” said Paddy Crumlin, President of the ITF. “We send our solidarity and deepest compassion to our affiliates and are on alert to offer practical support as soon as they are able to identify what is most needed. Human, economic and regional aftershocks following this devasting catastrophe will require support and long-term commitment. The ITF is determined to be a part of that commitment.”
The situation in Syria is even more difficult because of continuing conflict there. There are reports that the war-torn city of Aleppo is among those impacted by the quakes, where hospitals, already strained by conflict, are reportedly overwhelmed by the numbers of injured. The ITF backs calls for aid and emergency humanitarian support to reach all areas affected by the earthquake without restriction.
Türkiye has declared a level four emergency and asked international organisations for help. Already, many countries and organisations, including the ITF, have pledged support.
“We do not yet know the scale of this disaster, but at this tragic time, we extend the condolences and solidarity of the world’s transport workers to the Turkish and Syrian people,” said Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary.
“Our affiliates and union allies tell us there are still many members they cannot reach. They believe those people are in the rubble under collapsed buildings. We are in a race against time to find survivors, and our hearts and thoughts are with the families and the rescue workers searching for life."