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How long can people survive in the rubble of an earthquake? Searches continue in Turkey and Syria

‘Keep fighting’: Experts urge families in Turkey and Syria not to lose hope – say victims can survive in rubble for up to seven days

  • People can survive for up to a week or more in earthquake debris, experts say
  • The seriously injured must retreat within an hour for the best chance of survival
  • Rescue teams are still searching for survivors of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

People can survive in the rubble of an earthquake for up to a week or more, depending on their injuries, how they’re trapped and the weather conditions, experts say.

Search teams from around the world have joined local emergency services in Turkey and Syria to search for victims of this week’s devastating earthquake that killed thousands.

Dr. Jarone Lee, an emergency and disaster medicine expert at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that while it’s rare to find survivors beyond a week, “there are a lot of stories of people who survived the seven days.”

People who are stuck with others are more likely to survive, as are those who are younger and without pre-existing conditions.

A rescue worker digs to reach children under the rubble of a collapsed building in the rebel-held town of Jindayris on February 8, 2023, two days after a deadly earthquake struck Turkey and Syria

A man is pulled from the rubble 65 hours after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit multiple provinces, including Kahramanmaras, Turkiye

A man is pulled from the rubble 65 hours after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit multiple provinces, including Kahramanmaras, Turkiye

Dr. Lee said: “Normally it is rare to find survivors after the fifth to seventh day, and most search and rescue teams will consider stopping by then.

“But there are a lot of stories of people surviving well past the seven-day mark. Unfortunately, these are usually rare and extraordinary cases.’

Dr. George Chiampas, an emergency medicine specialist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg Medical School, said people with traumatic injuries, including contusions and limb amputations, have the most critical survival window.

He said, “If you don’t get them out in an hour, in that golden hour, the chances of survival are really slim.”

People with pre-existing illnesses or who are dependent on drugs also face grim odds, Dr Chiampas added. Age, physical and mental condition are all important.

Dr. Christopher Colwell, an emergency medicine specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, said: ‘You see a lot of different scenarios where we’ve had some really miraculous rescues and people have survived in terrible conditions.

“They’re mostly younger people and they’ve been lucky enough to find a pocket in the rubble or a way to access necessary elements like air and water.”

After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a teenager and his 80-year-old grandmother were found alive in their destroyed home after nine days.

A year earlier, a 16-year-old Haitian girl was rescued after 15 days from the rubble of an earthquake in Port-Au-Prince.

Mental state can also affect survival. People trapped next to bodies, who have no contact with other survivors or rescuers, may give up hope, Dr Chiampas noted.

He added, “When you have someone alive, you lean on each other to keep fighting.”

More than 12,000 people have been killed and thousands injured after the catastrophic earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on February 6.

Much of the city center was destroyed by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake. Multi-storey buildings collapsed and thousands of people were trapped.

Extensive rescue teams have toiled through the nights in Turkey and Syria, continuing to search for survivors trapped in the rubble of thousands of buildings.

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