Trapped in quake ruins, girl protects her brother for 36 hours as they wait to be saved
Two children lodged under the concrete remains of their home in earthquake-struck Syria have been rescued after enduring a freezing 36-hour wait.
Mariam, the elder sibling, is seen gently stroking her younger brother’s head as they lie wedged between what appears to be the remains of their bed and a collapsed concrete wall after Monday’s devastating tremor.
She is able to move her arm just enough to cover her brother’s face, offering some protection from the great clouds of dust billowing from the cluster of fallen buildings.
Whispering to her rescuers from underneath the remains of their home in Besnaya-Bseineh, a small village in Haram, Syria, Mariam says: “Get me out of here, I’ll do anything for you.
“I’ll be your servant,” she adds, as a rescuer replies: “No, no.”
Their father later explained to CNN that the younger child is called Ilaaf – an Islamic name that means protection.
Mustafa Zuhir Al-Sayed told the broadcaster that his wife and three children were sleeping when the 7.8-magnitude quake hit neighbouring Turkey on Monday morning.
“We felt the ground shaking … and rubble began falling over our head, and we stayed two days under the rubble,” he said. “We went through, a feeling, a feeling I hope no one has to feel.”
Caught under the wreckage of their home, Al-Sayed said his family recited the Quran and prayed out loud that someone would find them.
children of Syria pic.twitter.com/7XNgasTQfr
— Hkim Hmeed (@hkim_hmeed) February 7, 2023
“People heard us, and we were rescued – me, my wife and the children. Thank God, we are all alive and we thank those who rescued us,” he said.
Footage shows locals cheering as Mariam and Ilaaf are carried from the rubble wrapped in blankets. The children were taken to hospital, where they are receiving medical treatment.
In Turkey, there is one of the many stories of anguish, with nearly 12,000 people having been declared dead across both Syria and Turkey so far. Yunus Emre Kaya and his fiancee Gulcin were planning a life together, but now Kaya, 24, has had to say a final farewell to his fiancee, unzipping a black bodybag to identify her body in a sports hall in Kahramanmaras, near the epicentre of the quake, where casualties from the disaster had been laid out. He gave her a last embrace. They were due to marry in April.
"I was planning to clothe her with a wedding dress but now I will clothe her with a funeral shroud," he told Reuters, weeping. "Imagine somebody tied your hands and feet and you cannot get up. There is no food, no water, no air... This is how I am. I am like the walking dead."
Anger is growing in some areas of Turkey about the time it is taking for help, or aid, to reach some areas, with poor weather and freezing temperatures hampering rescue efforts. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the especially hard-hit Hatay province, where more than 3,300 people died and entire neighbourhoods were destroyed and residents have complained about how slow rescue workers were to arrive.
Mr Erdogan acknowledged “shortcomings” in the response to the disaster but said the winter weather had been a factor. The earthquake destroyed the runway in Hatay’s airport, further disrupting the response.
“It is not possible to be prepared for such a disaster,” Mr Erdogan said. “We will not leave any of our citizens uncared for.” He also hit back at critics, saying “dishonourable people” were spreading “lies and slander” about the government’s response.
Turkish authorities say they are targeting disinformation, and an internet monitoring group said access to Twitter was restricted on Wednesday. Trapped survivors have used Twitter to alert rescuers and loved ones, while others have taken to the social network to criticise the government’s response. There was no official comment on the restrictions. The government has periodically restricted access to social media during national emergencies and terror attacks, citing national security. Police said they had detained 18 people and identified more than 200 social media accounts suspected of “spreading fear and panic.”
Mr Erdogan said Turkey’s death toll passed 9,000. The Syrian Health Ministry said the death toll in government-held areas climbed past 1,200. At least 1,400 people have died in the rebel-held northwest, according to the volunteer first responders known as the White Helmets. Tens of thousands more are injured across both nations.
The disaster comes at a sensitive time for Mr Erdogan, who faces an economic downturn, high inflation and elections in May. Perceptions that his government mismanaged the crisis could hurt him at the ballot box. The president said the government would distribute 10,000 Turkish lira (£440) to affected families. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey‘s main opposition party, blamed the devastation on Mr Erdogan’s two-decade rule, saying he had not prepared the country for a disaster and accusing him of misspending funds.
In Syria, aid efforts have been hampered by the ongoing war and the isolation of the rebel-held region along the border, which is surrounded by Russia-backed government forces. Syria itself is an international pariah under Western sanctions linked to the war. The European Union (EU) said Wednesday that Syria had asked for humanitarian assistance to help earthquake victims. An EU representative insisted the bloc’s sanctions against the Syrian government had no impact on its potential to help. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Muhannad Hadi, said on Wednesday that there was still no access to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing into opposition-held Syria – the only terminal where UN aid can be delivered – because of damaged roads.