Top US diplomat visits Turkey quake zone; pledges $100m in aid

Antony Blinken, who toured Hatay province from the air, says ‘it is going to take a massive effort to rebuild’ earthquake-hit areas.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken took a helicopter tour of Hatay, one of the provinces worst affected by the February 6 earthquake in southern Turkey and northern Syria, and pledged a further $100m in aid to help the region.

The visit came as Turkey ended rescue efforts in all provinces except the two hardest hit by last week’s massive quake that killed tens of thousands of people, the disaster agency said on Sunday.

“In many of our provinces, search and rescue efforts have been completed. They continue in Kahramanmaras and Hatay provinces,” the agency’s chief Yunus Sezer told reporters in Ankara.

There had been abundant media coverage of rescue teams finding survivors, but it has now slowed down with no survivors found in at least 24 hours.

US President Joe Biden announced $85m for Turkey and Syria days after the earthquake, which has killed more than 46,000 people in the two countries. The US has also sent a search-and-rescue team, medical supplies and equipment.

“This is going to be a long-term effort,” Blinken said on Sunday at Incirlik Air Base, a joint US-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.”

The additional aid includes $50m in emergency refugee and migration funds and $50m 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 on Sunday after attending the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

‘Massive effort’ needed

Blinken flew over Turkey’s devastated Hatay region from the air with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

“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 US 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 US Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing, has been a crucial logistics centre 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 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.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join the trans-Atlantic defence pact after Russia invaded Ukraine, but the two countries have faced unexpected objections from Turkey and have since sought to win its support.

Ankara wants Helsinki and Stockholm to take a tougher line against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a “terrorist” group by Turkey and the European Union, and another group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.

Source: News Agencies