Rescue worker in Turkey describes importance of ‘emotional support’ for those trapped

A rescue worker from the D.C. area currently helping victims of the devastating earthquake in Turkey described the importance of providing emotional support to those who are trapped.

Dr. Murteza Shahkolahi has helped to pull survivors from the rubble several days after the quake first hit.

“We take into consideration the more obvious medical issues, but we’re quite concerned with the patient’s mental and emotional well-being,” Shahkolahi said.

Shahkolahi is with Virginia Task Force 1, the team from Fairfax County, Virginia, which gets deployed around the world to respond to natural disasters. He said that when making first contact with a survivor who is trapped, it is important to try to give them hope.

“We’re very much giving them emotional and mental support to be able to get them through not just the immediate extrication, but also the following hours and days,” Shahkolahi said.

Many times, the first thing survivors ask is whether their family is safe.

If they do have family members who are OK, that is a productive thing for rescue crews to focus on, according to Shahkolahi.

“Being able to confirm that their family member is waiting for them gives them the motivation to thrive through this quite devastating circumstance,” Shahkolahi said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Tuesday that more than 35,000 people had died in Turkey as a result of last week’s earthquake, making it the deadliest disaster since the country’s founding 100 years ago, The Associated Press reported.

Confirmed deaths in Turkey passed those recorded from the massive Erzincan earthquake in 1939 that killed around 33,000 people.

While the death toll may continue to rise even further, many of the tens of thousands of survivors left homeless are still struggling to meet basic needs, such as finding shelter from the bitter cold.

Erdogan said 105,505 were injured as a result of the Feb. 6 quake centered around Kahramanmaras and its aftershocks. Almost 3,700 deaths have been confirmed in neighboring Syria, making the combined toll in both countries to more than 39,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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