Turkey earthquake: UK rescue workers travel to help with search efforts

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British search and rescue specialists are set to travel to Turkey to help search for survivors after an earthquake killed over 4,300 people.

A team of 76 rescuers are set to fly out to the country later.

Two 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude quakes devastated parts of Turkey and Syria, reducing many buildings to rubble.

Turkish communities in the UK have been sending aid to the areas affected by the earthquake since early on Monday morning.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the impact of the quakes was “on a scale that we have not seen for quite some time”.

The confirmed death toll from Turkey and Syria has surged to 4,300 and is likely to rise further as more areas are searched and rescuers comb through mountains of rubble in freezing, snowy weather.

No Britons had yet been reported dead in the disaster, said Mr Cleverly.

Development Minister Andrew Mitchell said the British team had been due to leave for Turkey on Monday night, but were delayed. On Tuesday morning he suggested they would leave “imminently”, adding the first 72 hours were “critical”.

He told GB News: “I expect them to leave within the next couple of hours so that they land in daylight. And then this British expertise will be helping what is a huge, international effort to save lives.”

The UK search and rescue teams have four search dogs, equipment including seismic listening devices, concrete cutting and breaking equipment, as well as a team of emergency medics to assess the situation on the ground.

No 10 said the government was looking at ways it could support humanitarian action in northwest Syria, and that its first approach would be to work through the United Nations (UN).

The Foreign Office also said in north-west Syria the White Helmets, humanitarian volunteers who received UK-funding, have mobilised their resources to respond.

David Wightwick, CEO of medical aid charity UK-Med, said he and his team were heading to Turkey on Tuesday morning to assess where their help is most needed, before mobilising their register of hundreds of NHS medics.

He told BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “It’s that decision where it’s most needed which is the bit that takes up the first day or so.

“You can imagine in an area the size affected and with the numbers affected that’s not necessarily an easy decision to make.”

Paul Taylor, from humanitarian charity React, is also flying out to Turkey on Tuesday morning and said displaced people will need shelter, food, water, and medical support.

He told the BBC: “We will be focused on an assessment and then trying to identify what are the needs of the affected population, and then helping them.

“Principally I think at this point because of the weather conditions, I think that will be shelter…

“It’s upon us to bring our aid game and do everything to help people in the best way we can.”

The chairman of the British Turkish Association said he had been “inundated” with calls from people worried about loved ones.

Attila Ustun described it as a “heartbreaking” day for Turks everywhere and said there was “a very large connection” between the Turkish communities in east and north London and the area where the quake struck.

He continued: “Some were born in those cities and towns that are now a disaster zone.”

Mr Ustun said people from Turkish backgrounds had been reaching out after learning family members had died, including “one gentleman in Bedfordshire who has lost three of his uncles in one property”.

He added: “I’ve been inundated, I had one lady in London crying her eyes out and saying that half of her village is now rubble.

“People are ringing me asking what they can do to help.”

The British Turkish Association is taking donations, particularly winter clothes, at different points across the UK.

Ali Topaloglu, from the Nottingham Turkish Community, told the BBC his family had been directly affected.

He said: “It’s shocking. I can not find the words to describe the situation… it’s devastating news. We lost some immediate family.”

Mr Topaloglu is now part of a campaign asking for donations of tents, blankets and clothes for Turkey, as well as money for food parcels.

Countries around the world have pledged or offered support for operations in southeast Turkey and northern Syria following the disaster.

Ebu Bekir Tezgel, senior Imam at Aziziye Mosque in north London, said many of its worshippers had relatives in the area of Turkey where the earthquake hit.

He said there had been prayers for those affected and efforts were being made to send emergency aid.

“Everyone’s morale is very down as you can imagine,” he told BBC News.

“We would normally stop and talk after prayer, to sit around and have a little chat – but that didn’t happen today.”

He said work would continue to gather aid to send to Turkey as well as identify members of mosque who need specific support.

Cengiz Akarsu lives in Durham, but is originally from Elaziğ in the east of Turkey. His brother moved to the city of Hatay – which has been devastated by the earthquake – for work, and has lost his house. The company he works for has moved him and his family to a hotel in Adana.

He says he feels “helpless” knowing he “can’t do anything”.

“It’s just like your family, you know and I know, they’re in trouble and you’re watching them,” he says.

“Everyone is like family… they don’t have religion, they don’t have colour, they don’t have country, they are just human people dying.”

Mr Akarsu said his best friend had also been missing since the earthquake happened.

Charities are also launching appeals, including The British Red Cross.

Its chief executive, Mike Adamson, said it was “shocking” to see the scale of destruction caused by this earthquake with homes, hospitals and roads destroyed across the region.

“The priority right now is rescuing people from the rubble and Red Cross Red Crescent teams are on the ground in Syria and Turkey providing urgent support during these critical hours.”

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