Turkey-Syria earthquake: time running out for survivors

International aid is headed to Turkey and Syria, as a 7.8 magnitude earthquake and its aftershocks has caused widespread destruction, and while there might be some “miracle” recoveries over the next few days or even longer, experts say time is running out.

The death toll (currently close to 8,000) will probably continue to climb. The earthquakes have caused thousands of buildings in central and southern Turkey, and northern Syria, to collapse.

“When the hazard met conditions of vulnerability, the disaster resulted,” says Dr Iftekhar Ahmed, an associate professor in the School of Architecture and Built Environment at the University of Newcastle.

“These conditions include the type of buildings and the timing of the earthquake, among other factors. The timing of the earthquake was unfortunate, at 4:17am in the early morning when people were sleeping and crushed by collapsing structures.”

The number of people trapped under the rubble is a particular concern, as the clock is counting down on finding survivors.

Read more: Turkey-Syria earthquake: a seismologist explains what went on

“In the initial stages after an earthquake, the majority of victims are rescued by relatives and neighbours,” says Professor Paul Arbon, a researcher at Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

“The international media is often focussed on the work of international urban search and rescue (UDSAR) teams.

“We know that foreign USAR teams usually arrive too late to make a significant contribution to lives saved.”

How long can someone survive under rubble? Al Jazeera has reported that a Syrian family has been rescued alive after 40 hours, but Arbon describes such rescues as “extremely rare”.

“There have been miraculous rescues days after, but there’s a whole lot of things that play into that space: some of those being access to water, and what other injuries a person might have.”

The size and the severity of the earthquake is another hampering factor.

“In any case, in an event of such scale and geographic spread, it is unlikely that a USAR team will be in the right place when needed,” says Arbon.

“The most effective strategy to ensure lives are saved post event, is preparation and community resilience building prior to the event. This can take various forms, for example, improved building practices, and comprehensive community education, especially for rescue and immediate first aid.”

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