Ten days after the strong earthquake in Turkey and Syria on February 6, rescue teams continue to find survivors in the rubble. Rescues become increasingly rare as the days go by, but the news of the discovery of survivors are widely reported by the media, especially in Turkey, where it is estimated that at least 35,000 people have died, in addition to at least another 5,000 deaths in Syria.
It doesn’t often happen that people are still alive so long after an earthquake, but the seismic event in Turkey and Syria affected a very large portion of the territory, with thousands of buildings and tens of thousands of people involved in collapses of various types and circumstances. On Tuesday two brothers were recovered live from the rubble of a collapsed building in Kahramanmaraş, one of the cities most affected by the earthquake. After receiving help, they explained that they managed to survive so long thanks to a protein supplement powder, which they had mixed with their own urine.
In Antioch on Monday it was put in save a man with his son and in the early hours of the following Tuesday his other two children were rescued. On Wednesday a 42-year-old woman was extracted still alive from the rubble in Kahramanmaraş, after according to Turkish media she had spent over 222 hours waiting for someone to find her; another 74-year-old woman was recovered in the same city on Wednesday.
In recent days the Turkish media have frequently given news like this, in some cases difficult to verify. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, criticized for the slowness of the rescue efforts and the lack of checks on the application of anti-seismic standards to buildings in the last twenty years, used the news of the finds to try to divert attention from the criticisms and to praise the work of rescue teams.
The finds of people still alive are reported with great emphasis during the long live coverage of Turkish television channels to tell the relief activities after the earthquake and are often described as “miraculous”. Beyond the definitions, it is in fact rare that after more than a week people are still alive among the rubble after an earthquake of that magnitude. Collapses cause trauma of various kinds, but there is still a chance of survival if these do not affect vital organs or do not involve serious injuries, which determine the loss of a lot of blood.
A healthy person can go weeks without eating, while he hardly survives more than 3-4 days without drinking. However, we are all made differently and there may be cases of people who resist longer, so much so that even today it is rather debated what the actual limit is before death from dehydration occurs. The low temperatures in the earthquake zones have contributed to the death of people stuck in the rubble, but it cannot be excluded that in some cases they have favored the survival of some of them by limiting perspiration and therefore the loss of liquids.
Some of the people rescued from the rubble reported that they were able to retrieve some water or food, while others such as the brothers rescued in Kahramanmaraş said they drank their own urine. Collecting, storing and drinking your own urine can reduce fluid loss at least in the short term, but it is not a sustainable practice in the long term. Our body also loses liquids through perspiration, consequently the amount of urine produced decreases significantly over time.
The limited possibility of movement which forces you to remain still for most of the time can increase the chances of survival. The lack of physical activity causes the body to consume less energy and after the first few days of fasting, the feeling of hunger is significantly reduced, while it is much more difficult to keep thirst under control.
According to numerous experts, ten days after the earthquake it becomes increasingly unlikely that people still alive can be found in the rubble, but it is still possible that there may still be some isolated finds. In some areas, with great caution, the removal of the rubble has been started with teams of rescuers who collaborate in the activities to make sure that there are no people trapped.
It is estimated that at least 50,000 buildings in Turkey alone collapsed or were heavily damaged by the earthquake. The Turkish government has announced its intention to proceed rapidly with the removal of the rubble and the reconstruction, while thousands of people live in camps and structures in very difficult conditions also due to the low temperatures and the lack of comfort goods.