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UK sends rescue specialists to Turkey in aftermath of devastating earthquake

Handout photo taken with permission from the Twitter account @mehmetyetim63 of a van under a collapsed building in Sanliurfa, Turkey, after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. At least 10 casualties have been reported and many more are feared dead after the earthquake knocked down multiple buildings in southeast Turkey and Syria. A UK team of search and rescue specialists is expected to arrive in Turkey by 11pm UK time, according to the Government. Photo by Mehmet Yetim/PA

By David Hughes and Dominic McGrath, PA

A team of British search-and-rescue specialists is heading to Turkey to help the relief effort following the earthquake which has claimed thousands of lives.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said no Britons had been reported dead in the quake which has devastated parts of Turkey and Syria, but he acknowledged it was still too early to say whether that would remain the case as the full picture emerges.

The powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake was followed by a series of aftershocks and more than 4,300 people were killed, although the authorities fear that death toll will rise as the search for survivors continues.

Mr Cleverly said the impact of the quakes was “on a scale that we have not seen for quite some time”.

The UK is sending a team of 76 search-and-rescue specialists, complete with state-of-the-art equipment and four specially trained dogs, to Turkey, with a flight scheduled to leave Birmingham on Monday night.

They “should be on the ground shortly to give the Turkish authorities the help that they need to try to save as many lives as possible”, he said.

“With an earthquake of this magnitude we sadly have already seen many thousands of people die,” Mr Cleverly said.

“We don’t know the full extent of the injuries or fatalities and sadly they are likely to grow over the coming days.

“At this stage we aren’t aware of any British fatalities but of course it’s far too early for us to say that won’t be the case.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “My thoughts are with the people of Turkiye (Turkey) and Syria this morning, particularly with those first responders working so valiantly to save those trapped by the earthquake.

“The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can.”

In Syria, the UK has for many years provided support to the White Helmets rescue team, which has operated to save lives during the bloody civil war in the country.

Although the area of Turkey which has suffered the highest degree of damage does not receive a large number of British visitors, the Foreign Office has been in contact with UK humanitarian workers in the affected areas and is ready to provide support to Britons caught up in the disaster.

Hundreds of buildings collapsed due to the violence of the event, with many residents expected to have been asleep at the time of the pre-dawn earthquake.

The quake, which was centred on Turkey’s south-eastern province of Kahramanmaras, was felt as far away as Cairo in Egypt and Beirut in Lebanon.

Rescue workers and residents in several cities searched for survivors, working through tangles of metal and giant piles of concrete.

A hospital in Turkey also collapsed and patients, including newborn babies, were evacuated from a handful of facilities in Syria.

In the Turkish city of Adana, one resident said three buildings near his home had collapsed.

Further east in Diyarbakir, cranes and rescue teams rushed people on stretchers out of a mountain of pancaked concrete floors that was once a block of flats.

The quake hit a region that has been shaped on both sides of the border by more than a decade of civil war in Syria and the refugee crisis the conflict created.

Jill Morris, the British ambassador-designate to Turkey, said: “The British embassy in Ankara is in close contact with the Turkish authorities to understand how we can best support those on the ground.

“Our thoughts are with all those affected by the earthquakes today. We pay tribute to the brave Turkish first responders working to save lives.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the earthquake a “tragedy” as he praised the “brave” search and rescue teams working “to try and save as many people as they can”.

The British Red Cross on Monday launched an emergency fundraising appeal to support the response and get aid to those who need it in Syria and Turkey.

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