Death toll in Turkey and earthquake in Syria exceeds 15,000
GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Rescuers pulled more survivors from under the rubble of collapsed buildings on Thursday, but hopes were beginning to fade of finding many more people alive more than three days after a catastrophic earthquake and a series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 15,000 people.
Emergency teams working through the night in the city of Antakya were able to extract a young girl from the ruins of a building and also rescued her father alive two hours later, the IHA news agency reported.
In Diyarbakir, east of Antakya, rescuers freed an injured woman from a collapsed building in the early morning but found the three people next to her dead in the rubble, DHA news agency reported. .
In addition to the 12,873 people killed in Turkey, the country’s disaster management agency said more than 60,000 people were injured. More than 2,900 people are believed to have been killed on the Syrian side of the border.
Tens of thousands of people are believed to have lost their homes. In Antakya, former residents of a collapsed building huddled around an outdoor fire overnight Thursday, wrapping blankets tightly around them to try to stay warm.
Serap Arslan said many people remained under the rubble of the nearby building, including her mother and brother. She said the machines only started moving some of the heavy concrete on Wednesday.
“We tried to clean up the debris on our own, but unfortunately our efforts were insufficient,” the 45-year-old said.
Selen Ekimen wiped the tears from her face with gloved hands as she explained that her parents and brother were still buried.
“There has been no sound for days,” she said. “Nothing.”
Experts said the window of survival for those trapped in rubble or otherwise unable to get basic necessities was closing fast. At the same time, they said it was too early to give up hope.
“The first 72 hours are considered critical,” said Steven Godby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University in England. “The average survival rate within 24 hours is 74%, after 72 hours it is 22% and on the fifth day it is 6%.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the hard-hit province of Hatay on Wednesday, where residents criticized the government’s efforts, saying rescuers were slow to arrive.
According to the disaster management agency, more than 110,000 rescue workers are now taking part in the effort and more than 5,500 vehicles, including tractors, cranes, bulldozers and excavators, have been dispatched.
The task is monumental, however, with thousands of buildings toppled by the quake.
Erdogan, who faces an uphill battle for re-election in May, acknowledged problems with the emergency response to Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake but said wintry weather had been a factor. The earthquake also destroyed the runway at Hatay Airport, further disrupting the response.
“It is not possible to be prepared for such a catastrophe,” Erdogan said. “We will not leave any of our citizens without care.” He also hit back at critics, saying “dishonorable people” were spreading “lies and slander” about government actions.
The disaster comes at a sensitive time for Erdogan, who faces an economic slowdown and high inflation. The perception that his government mishandled the crisis could damage his reputation. He said the government would distribute 10,000 Turkish liras ($532) to affected families.
Teams from more than two dozen countries have joined local emergency personnel in the effort. But the scale of the destruction caused by the earthquake and its powerful aftershocks was so immense and spread over such a vast area that many people were still waiting for help.
The region was already plagued by more than a decade of civil war in Syria. Millions of people have been displaced within Syria itself and millions more have sought refuge in Turkey.
In Syria, aid efforts have been hampered by the ongoing war and the isolation of the rebel-held region along the border, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Syria itself is an international pariah under Western war-related sanctions.
The death toll from the quake has already exceeded that of a 7.8 magnitude quake in Nepal in 2015, which killed 8,800. An earthquake in Japan in 2011 triggered a tsunami, killing nearly 20,000 people.
Alsayed reported from Bab al-Hawa, Syria. Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul. Associated Press reporters David Rising in Bangkok and Robert Badendieck in Istanbul contributed.