Students trapped following deadly Turkey earthquakes

Universities join rescue mission after 7.8 magnitude tremor strikes near Gaziantep

February 7, 2023
Source: iStock

Students have been reported missing after the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, and higher education has been disrupted across much of the region.

More than 5,000 deaths have been confirmed across the two countries and an international aid effort is under way following the double earthquake.

A 7.8 magnitude quake struck near Gaziantep, south Turkey, in the early hours of 6 February, before another just hours later measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale. It will be a long time before the full extent of the damage is known but the impact on higher education institutions has already been significant.

Local media reported that dozens of students from a number of universities in Adıyaman were trapped when the Grand Isias Hotel collapsed.

The Turkish Council of Higher Education announced that activities at institutions in the 10 areas affected by the Kahramanmaras-centred earthquake were suspended until further notice, with their facilities offered to those in need.

The council said 44 universities in the area were housing victims of the earthquake, and giving them food and water, while faculty medical staff were providing health services, and experts were joining the rescue efforts.

A team led by Çetin Bayram from Dokuz Eylül University in western Turkey, and involving mountaineers from Russian and Azerbaijan, saved seven lives in a 24-hour period.

“Some of our university staff and students [have] rescued people from the rubble, some [have] distributed food, some [have] participated in fundraising,” said Erol Özvar, president of the higher education council.

“I am proud of our entire academy community, university staff and students for their solidarity. With these exemplary stories of humanity and this spirit of solidarity, we will get through the hard times together as a nation and get better.”

The start of the spring term has been delayed for Turkish universities in other parts of the country that were unaffected by the earthquake.

Zeki Hasgur, an engineering lecturer at Altınbaş University, told Times Higher Education it was too early to say whether any university buildings had been damaged.

“It would be a very natural decision to suspend education in the region for a while in an environment where aftershocks continue and lifesaving activities continue under the structures damaged in the earthquakes,” he said.

Turkey’s disaster agency said about 3,500 people had already been killed, while a further 1,600 people are reported to have died in neighbouring Syria, although the death toll looks set to continue rising.

Several universities in Syria announced they were postponing exams as a result of the disaster.

The 7.8 magnitude tremor is the largest earthquake in the region in modern times, according to Bob Holdsworth, professor of structural geology at Durham University.

The European University Association said its thoughts went out to the higher education community affected by the earthquake, while the International Science Council (ISC) said it was “profoundly saddened” by the news.

“The ISC stands ready to assist by convening our international membership to express support for universities or spaces of learning that may have been affected,” added ISC president Sir Peter Gluckman.

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