Thousands of people who lost their homes in the earthquake are struggling for food, water and warmth as rescue efforts continue.
ANTAKYA, Hatay – Thousands of people who lost their homes in a catastrophic earthquake gathered around fires and demanded food and water in the bitter cold, three days after an earthquake and a series of aftershocks struck Turkey and Syria, killing more than 19,300 people.
Emergency crews used picks, shovels and jackhammers to dig through the twisted metal and concrete — and occasionally pulled survivors out. But in some places the emphasis was switched to the demolition of fragile buildings.
While the stories of a wonderful rescues briefly cheered the spirits, a grim reality the hardships faced by the tens of thousands of people who survived the disaster throw a curtain. The death toll surpassed that of Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which killed more than 18,400 people.
The first UN aid trucks have arrived in northwest Syria from rebel-held Turkey since an earthquake, underscoring the difficulty of getting aid to people in the civil war-torn country. Meanwhile, in the Turkish city of Antakya, dozens of people scrambled for help in front of a truck handing out baby coats and other goods.
One of the survivors, Ahmet Tokgoz, called on the government to evacuate people from the devastated region. While many of the tens of thousands who lost their homes took shelter in tents, stadiums and other temporary shelters, others spent the night outdoors.
“Especially in this cold, it is impossible to live here,” he said. “If people don’t die from being stuck under the rubble, they will die from the cold.”
Winter weather and damage to roads and airports hampered the response in both Turkey and Syria, where a civil war that has displaced millions has further complicated efforts. Some in Turkey have complained that the response has been too slow, a perception that could hurt President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he faces a tough re-election fight in May.
In the Turkish city of Elbistan, rescuers stood on the high ground of a collapsed house and caught an elderly woman who was underwater.
Teams called quietly hoping to hear muffled pleas for help, and a Syrian aid group in the rebel-held northwest known as the White Helmets said “every second could mean saving a life.”
But more and more often, the teams took out the bodies of the dead from under the rubble. In Antakya, Turkey, more than 100 bodies, covered with blankets and awaiting identification, lay in a makeshift morgue near a hospital and in refrigerated trucks.
Z the chances of finding people alive among the rubble are diminishing, crews in some places started demolishing buildings. Others simply had to move on.
In Adiyaman, Associated Press journalists saw a local resident asking rescuers to come and sort through the rubble of a building in which relatives found themselves. The crew refused, saying there were no survivors there and they had to prioritize areas where there might be survivors.
The man, who gave only his first name, Ahmet, out of fear of the authorities, later asked the AP: “How can I go home and sleep? My brother is there. Maybe he’s still alive.”
In Nurdagi, crowds of onlookers – mostly family members of people trapped inside – watched as heavy machinery tore apart one building, which collapsed, its six floors crushed together.
Mehmet Yilmaz watched from a distance, believing that around 80 people were still trapped under the rubble, but that it was unlikely that any of them would make it out alive.
“There is no hope,” said 67-year-old Yilmaz, whose six relatives, including a 3-month-old baby, were trapped. “We cannot give up our hope in God, but they entered the building with listening devices and dogs. and there was nothing.”
On Thursday, authorities suspended search and rescue operations in the cities of Kilis and Şanlıurfa, where the damage was not as severe as in other affected regions.
Aid flowed across the border into war-torn Syria. Smaller aid agencies sent supplies to rebel-held northwest Syria, but the first UN trucks arrived on Thursday. The UN is only authorized to deliver aid through one border crossing, and so far damage to the road has prevented that.
UN officials said more was needed, and they asked that humanitarian concerns take precedence over politics.
The scale of loss and suffering generally remained enormous. Turkish authorities said Thursday that the country’s death toll had risen to more than 16,100, with more than 64,000 injured. On the Syrian side of the border, which includes government- and rebel-held areas, more than 3,100 people have been reported killed and more than 5,000 wounded.
It is not yet known how many people in both countries are considered missing.
Among the missing were members of a high school volleyball team from northern Cyprus, as well as teachers and parents who lived in the hotel that collapsed, Nazim Çavuşoğlu, the education minister of the Turkish-Cypriot north, told Turkish NTV television. .
Turkey’s disaster management agency said more than 110,000 rescuers were taking part in operations and more than 5,500 vehicles, including tractors, cranes, bulldozers and excavators, had been dispatched. Teams from as diverse as Poland, Switzerland, Israel, and the West Bank participated in the deployment in Turkey.
But international aid for Syria has been much more sparse, where 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 sanctions related to the war.
The UN delivery was scheduled before the earthquake but was delayed due to road damage. UN officials said more trucks followed.
Erdogan, who continued to tour the devastated areas on Thursday, sought to deflect criticism – and promised that it was getting better. He renewed a promise to earthquake survivors that destroyed homes would be rebuilt within a year. He said the government would distribute 10,000 Turkish liras ($532) to the affected families.
Alsayed reported from Bab al-Hawa, Syria, and Bilginsa from Istanbul. Associated Press reporters Susan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Emrah Gurel and Yakup Paksoy in Adiyaman, Turkey, Robert Badendik in Istanbul and David Rising in Bangkok contributed.