Two teams of Israeli rescuers left Israel on Monday to provide vital search and rescue relief to Turkey in the wake of last night’s two devastating earthquakes, which have killed more than 4,300 people across Turkey and Syria and flattened over five thousand buildings, many apartment blocks.
The two earthquakes, one of 7.8 magnitude and the other of 7.7 struck hours apart in the early hours of this morning and were felt across four countries, Turkey, Syria, Cyprus and Israel, even setting off earthquake warnings in Israel’s central region.
The epicenter of the quakes was near Gaziantep in Turkey, on the Turkish-Syrian border, and hundreds of aftershocks continue to shake and damage buildings even as rescuers try to free people trapped beneath the rubble.
Following a request for help from the Turkish authorities, the Israel government held an emergency meeting and began making immediate preparations to dispatch a delegation of medical and search and rescue experts.
Late on Monday afternoon, Israel’s Foreign Ministry sent a small Home Front Command search and rescue team to Turkey to gain an impression of what needs to be done on the ground. This will be followed by a full Israel Defense Forces rescue and medical team.
SmartAID-Magen Search and Rescue also sent a team of 25 search and rescue experts to Gaziantep this afternoon with specialized equipment to find and rescue people trapped beneath collapsed buildings.
“In the first 10 days after an earthquake everyone is focused on search and rescue, pulling people out of the debris, and trying to save as many lives as possible,” Shachar Zahavi, SmartAID’s founding director, told ISRAEL21c.
The organization’s goal, he said, “was to maximize search and rescue efforts by teaching local people who know the ground and the geography how to pull people out of collapsed buildings safely and securely.
“This is our first phase. In our second phase we start dealing with clean water, energy and connectivity, and already have a plan in motion for when the search and rescue finishes,” he said.
Among the many other organizations readying aid to Turkey are Mashav, Israel’s national aid agency – which sent it’s head Eynat Shlein to Turkey this morning, Israel’s rescue services – United Hatzalah and Magen David Adom (MDA), and NGO IsraAID, which is sending an emergency response team to Turkey to assess the situation, and see how best to help.
“The security forces are ready to offer any assistance that is required,” said Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a statement, adding that Israeli rescue teams have accumulated experience over the years in saving lives in disaster areas, including the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, and in Mexico in 2017.
“Magen David Adom has experience in assisting in disaster situations and the professionals are closely following the earthquake disaster in Turkey, and are prepared to provide any assistance that may be required,” the organization said.
“As soon as we heard about the scale of the destruction and tragedy, we immediately began to assess the situation and prepare an advanced jump team to provide relief in the wake of the devastating earthquake that has claimed the lives of hundreds of people,” said Eli Pollack, CEO of United Hatzalah.
“We are standing at the ready to send a relief mission consisting of doctors, paramedics, EMTs, members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, and members of the Search and Rescue Units, with medical supplies and humanitarian aid in order to provide assistance to the thousands of people in need in Turkey.”
“On behalf of the Israeli people, I am deeply saddened by the enormous disaster that has befallen Türkiye following last night’s earthquake. My condolences to President Erdoğan and the Turkish people for the loss of life and destruction of livelihoods,” said Israel’s President Isaac Herzog.
“The State of Israel always stands ready to assist in every way possible. Our hearts are with the grieving families and the Turkish people at this painful moment,” he added.
This article was updated on February 7th.