Foreign Secretary says three British nationals missing after earthquake
More than 5,000 people are now confirmed to have died following the quake which hit Turkey and Syria
Three British nationals are missing after a huge earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
It comes as UK aid charities say reports of the devastation are just the “tip of the iceberg”.
In a statement in the Commons on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary James Cleveley said the department’s Crisis Response Hub is working to support at least 35 Britons caught up in the disaster.
He added: “We assess that the likelihood of large-scale British casualties remains low.”
A number of relief organisations have urged the public to dig deep and donate, saying the help they are able to provide over the next few days “will save lives”.
The 7.8 magnitude quake hit Turkish city Gaziantep in the early hours of Monday, reducing thousands of homes and buildings across the south of the country and northern Syria to rubble as people slept.
More than 5,000 people across both nations are so far confirmed to have died in the natural disaster, though the figure is rising as a search and rescue operation continues.
Difficult conditions, including freezing temperatures, are said to be hampering efforts, particularly in rebel-held Syria, where people have fewer resources and there is a lack of routes to deliver aid through.
Among those joining the relief effort are 12 crew members from the London Fire Brigade and 76 search and rescue specialists being sent by the UK Government with state-of-the-art equipment and four specially trained dogs.
Meanwhile, British Turkish Association spokesman Atilla Ustun, 55, praised communities across London, which he said have helped raise between £200,000 and £300,000, which has paid for 300 boxes of donated aid to be sent on a Turkish Airlines cargo plane from Heathrow.
Dilan Altun, a 22-year-old Turk living in London, said she has tens of relatives who are now homeless and has been told people are dying after being rescued due to sub-zero conditions.
After the rescue mission, providing shelter is aid organisations’ priority, while there is also a need for food, clean water and warm clothes.
James Denselow, UK head of conflict and humanitarian advocacy for Save the Children UK, told the PA news agency: “The scale of this earthquake, in terms of not just strength but the kind of actual absolute sprawl of it has meant that we’ve had to spend a lot of time in this first phase checking in on needs, checking in on what is working logistically, checking that all our people are OK.
“Because you’ve got airports out of action, hospitals collapsed, clinics collapsed, all the sort of places we would normally use are not necessarily accessible.
“All the figures you’re hearing are way off what will be the final figures, and what I’m hearing from staff and colleagues closer to the emergency is that everything we’re seeing in the media is tip-of-the-iceberg stuff.
“So we’re still really just unravelling the fog of this disaster.
“Providing shelter is the most urgent type of aid from our perspective because the cold will kill people in ways that are less spectacular than the earthquake but equally deadly.”
Mr Denselow said a historical aid presence in both countries will help get aid to people in need quickly but the situation is more complicated in conflict-torn northern Syria.
“Northern Syria is an area where we were dealing with severe malnutrition and far more huge humanitarian needs than in other environments even before this happened,” he said.
“If you’re a vulnerable population and then something else like this happens, obviously what happens to you is likely going to be far worse.
“We see that with very basic things like children’s physiology. The ability of a child to survive crash injury from a building falling on them is far reduced if they are malnourished.”
Mike Noyes, humanitarian director at ActionAid UK, said it has already deployed workers from its team in Jordan to the disaster zones and has committed £40,000 from its emergency reserves to start giving relief.
“Right now we’re trying to make sure we have the funding for this support because the financial needs are going to be massive in the immediate and longer term as we help people recover and rebuild,” Mr Noyes said.
He said teams the charity works with in Syria have been personally affected by the disaster.
“They’ve had injuries and deaths within their team and their families. But they’re doing their best at the moment to work with the communities they’re in touch with inside Syria,” he said.
“They’ve been in touch with a couple of villages in particular that they say are completely flattened and have a really desperate need for shelter at the moment.”
He added: “We know there are huge pressures on people in this country at the moment. We also know from experience that people in this country open their eyes and see what’s going on in the rest of the world and have a great deal of sympathy.
“We’re confident in the UK public’s willingness to be generous. They are always willing to support those in desperate need at a time of humanitarian crisis. They’ve shown it again and again.
“What I’d say is that agencies like ourselves need money as it’s far better for us to have the resources to buy things like warm clothes locally.
“What we can do in the next few days in terms of providing shelter, warm clothing and food, if we have the resources, will save people’s lives.”
The United Nations this year launched a record 51.5 billion US dollar (£43 billion) appeal to help 339 million people now in need of assistance in 69 countries and 100 million who are displaced – a result of, among other issues, the pandemic on the world’s poorest, droughts and flooding in East Africa and Pakistan and the Ukraine conflict.
Mr Noyes said: “The humanitarian needs around the world are very big at the moment but we and our colleagues in sister agencies around the UK will be doing our best to respond to the disaster in Turkey and Syria.
“It’s something we’re all going to have to pull together to do as not one of us can do it alone.”Published: by Radio NewsHub