The Commercial Appeal
Blinken tours Turkey’s earthquake zone
ISTANBUL – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took a helicopter tour Sunday of one of the provinces worstaffected by the Feb. 6 earthquake in southern Turkey and northern Syria and pledged a further $100 million in aid to help the region.
“This is going to be a long-term effort,” Blinken said at Incirlik Air Base, a joint U.s.-turkish facility that has coordinated the distribution of disaster aid. “The search and rescue, unfortunately, is coming to an end. The recovery is on, and then there will be a massive rebuilding operation.”
President Joe Biden announced $85 million for Turkey and Syria days after the earthquake that has killed more than 44,000 people in the two countries. The U.S. has also sent a search and rescue team, medical supplies and equipment.
The additional aid includes $50 million in emergency refugee and migration funds and $50 million in humanitarian assistance, Blinken said.
The secretary of state is making his first trip to NATO ally Turkey since he took office two years ago. Blinken arrived at Incirlik Air Base, near Adana, on Sunday after attending the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
He toured Turkey’s Hatay province from the air with Turkish Foreign Minister
Mevlut Cavusoglu. He was expected to meet with U.S. and Turkish service personnel, as well as Turkish military families affected by the earthquake.
“When you see the extent of the damage, the number of buildings, the number of apartments, the number of homes that have been destroyed, it’s going to take a massive effort to rebuild,” the top U.S. diplomat said after the helicopter tour.
“The most important thing right now is to get assistance to people who need it, to get them through the winter and to get them back on their feet,” Blinken said as troops nearby unloaded boxes of aid. “We’ll stick with it until we get the job done.”
Incirlik, home to the U.S. Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing, has been a crucial logistics center for aid distribution. Supplies from around the world have been flown into the base and sent by truck and helicopter to those in need, including in difficult to reach villages.
Blinken is set to fly to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, later Sunday for discussions with Turkish officials on Monday, including an anticipated meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As well as the effects of the earthquake, Blinken is expected to discuss Sweden and Finland’s efforts to join NATO, which Turkey has delayed.
The number of confirmed deaths in Turkey due to the earthquake rose to more than 41,000 as of Sunday night, according to the national disaster agency AFAD.
Yunus Sezer, the agency’s chairperson, said search and rescue work in nine of the 11 provinces hit by the quake had ended.
Rescue operations are ongoing in Kahramanmaras, the site of the epicenter, and Hatay, one of the hardesthit provinces.
The new figure takes the combined death toll in Turkey and Syria to more than 44,700.
The U.N. has said the full scope of the deaths in Syria may take time to determine.