The milestone of 72 hours is approaching for rescuers in Turkey and Syria. That delay is crucial for finding survivors under the rubble, according to natural disaster researcher Ilan Kelman.
Time is running out for the survivors of the deadly earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. The 72-hour mark is approaching on Thursday, February 9, and more than 90% of earthquake survivors are rescued within three days of the disaster, explains Ilan Kelman, researcher in natural disasters at University College London ( UCL).
However, this duration can vary significantly depending on the weather, the frequency of aftershocks and the speed of help to arrive on the scene. So many elements which delay the chances of finding survivors of the earthquake of a magnitude of 7.8 which struck Monday at dawn the South-East of Turkey and the North of neighboring Syria.
The balance sheet, which has exceeded 16,000 dead, is likely to increase further, once the 72-hour window is closed.
“Usually it’s not earthquakes that kill people, it’s building collapses,” said Ilan Kelman, who has published research on earthquake responses.
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The first emergency is to treat the people crushed under the buildings before they succumb to their injuries, including haemorrhage.
The weather also plays a decisive role. However, it is “completely against us” in Turkey and Syria, in the grip of freezing cold for two days. “This unfortunately means that people can die of hypothermia,” laments the researcher. And without water, even the survivors who manage to survive the cold and their wounds will “start to die after three, four or five days”.
“The vast majority of survivors are brought back within 24 hours”
The many aftershocks that follow the earthquake can aggravate the collapses and add to the fear, both among survivors and among rescuers, he adds.
“The vast majority of survivors are brought back within 24 hours by local teams, often using only their hands or a shovel.” Dozens of countries have pledged to dispatch research teams, but the earthquake struck a “conflict zone, remote and difficult to access”, recalls Ilan Kelman.
It usually takes a day, at least, for international aid to be operational. “At this point, a good number of people who could have survived have already perished,” says the expert. According to him, the rescue teams have still not managed to reach certain rebel areas or temporary accommodation for displaced people.
Once there, there are several ways to find survivors, including with search dogs: a reputable unit of dogs from Mexico is currently en route to Turkey. Robots and drones are increasingly used to enter cramped spaces too dangerous for humans.
Once a survivor is found, rescuers must quickly decide how best to extract them from the rubble. Huge pieces of equipment, such as cranes, are sometimes needed to lift the slabs of collapsed buildings. Sometimes you have to amputate a limb “crushed under a pillar or a piece of masonry”, also says Ilan Kelman.
In the end, insists the researcher, “a successful relief operation begins decades before the earthquake, by trying to prevent the collapse of infrastructure”. The cost of an international rescue operation amounts, according to him, to a million dollars per life saved. “If the same sums were invested in disaster prevention, we wouldn’t be here.”
Source: France 24