Czechia sends help to Turkey and Syria in wake of devastating earthquake

The earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria in the early hours of Monday morning has now claimed over 5000 lives, with the death toll still rising. Although the hopes of finding people alive buried underneath the rubble are decreasing now that more than 24 hours have passed, search and rescue teams are still working in the area, including a team of Czech firefighters. Czech NGOs are also organising humanitarian aid.

Photo: HZS ČR

The roughly 70-strong Czech urban search and rescue team made up of firefighters from Prague and Moravia-Silesia departed on Monday evening and was flown on Tuesday morning by Turkish military planes to the city of Adiyaman, where they immediately started working. Martin Kavka is the spokesperson for the Prague firefighters.

“The team is organised into several smaller groups so that they can work around the clock. Part of the team is working on the construction of barriers and the other part is working directly on search and rescue efforts. These teams are equipped for finding people in houses destroyed by the earthquake. They carry echo-locators and focal-plane shutter cameras with them, there are search and rescue dogs with their handlers, and every team has a doctor with them. Finding people in collapsed buildings is exactly what the USAR teams are fully equipped for and trained to do.”

Photo: Khalil Hamra,  ČTK/AP

Czech humanitarian organisations are also helping financially – the NGOs People in Need and Caritas have opened special accounts for public donations. Irena Menšíková is working with Caritas in Turkey.

“The situation on the ground is extremely desperate, it’s catastrophic. The situation is complicated by freezing temperatures, snow, and rain. People slept in their cars because they had nowhere else to go.”

Photo: Omar Sanadiki,  ČTK/AP

Menšíková says the locals primarily need warm clothing, sleeping bags, food and water. However, according to Šimon Pánek, director of People In Need, it is best for people at home in Czechia to donate money rather than material goods, and leave the humanitarian aid to the people working on the ground.

“Everything that is needed can be bought in the local area or ordered from warehouses, which is more effective, faster, and supports the local economy: its restaurants, shops, and farmers.”

The Czech Red Cross and the charity ADRA have also opened donation accounts. ADRA is one of the few international humanitarian organisations continuing to operate in Syria despite the ongoing civil war. Zbyněk Wojkowski is ADRA’s head of foreign projects.

“In view of the cold temperatures, people who lost their homes are being housed in temporary accommodation. We are also helping people get basic things like blankets, sleeping bags and warm clothes, as well as food, drinking water and basic hygiene products – because in many cases people lost almost everything, escaping only with their lives.”

Millions of crowns have already arrived in the accounts – CZK 15 million to People in Need, CZK 1.3 million to Caritas, CZK 100,000 to the Czech Red Cross and CZK 600,000 to ADRA.

Pavel Vacek, the Czech ambassador to Turkey, says that Czechia will continue to help as the situation unfolds – and there is still much to be done.

“Both the number of victims and the extent of the damage, which unfortunately is far from over, will continue to grow. We will wait for Turkey’s further requests for help, in the later stages that will certainly be for medical assistance.”