Rescue teams are still searching the wreckage, although hope of finding survivors is fading in the freezing weather.

GAZIANTEP, Turkey – The death toll from a catastrophic earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria has risen to more than 15,000, as more bodies were pulled from the rubble of collapsed houses in the affected area, Turkey’s disaster management agency said Thursday. disasters.

The agency said 12,391 people were killed in Turkey after Monday’s early morning earthquake and a series of aftershocks destroyed thousands of buildings in southeast Turkey.

On the other side of the border in Syria, another 2,902 people died.

Rescuers continued to pull people alive from damaged homes, but hope began to fade amid freezing temperatures more than three days after the quake.

Turkey’s president on Wednesday acknowledged “shortcomings” in his country’s response to the world’s deadliest earthquake in more than a decade, as hopes dwindled that more survivors would emerge from the rubble of thousands of collapsed buildings.

Erdogan, who faces a tough re-election battle in May, responded to mounting frustration by acknowledging problems with the emergency response to Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake, but said winter weather was a factor. The earthquake also destroyed the runway at Hatay airport, further disrupting the response.

“It is impossible to be prepared for such a disaster,” Erdogan said. – We will not leave any of our citizens without care.” He also hit out at critics, saying “dishonest people” were spreading “lies and slander” about the government’s actions.

Turkish authorities said they were targeting disinformation, and an internet monitoring group said access to Twitter had been restricted despite survivors using it to alert rescuers.

Meanwhile, rescue teams in Turkey and Syria searched for signs of life in the rubble. Teams from more than two dozen countries joined tens of thousands of local emergency services. But scale of destruction the earthquake and its powerful aftershocks were so huge and spread over such a wide area that many people were still waiting for help.

Experts say the window for survival for those trapped under rubble or otherwise unable to obtain basic necessities is closing quickly. At the same time, they said it was too early to give up hope.

“The first 72 hours are considered critical,” said Stephen Godby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University in England. “Survival rates average 74% at 24 hours, 22% at 72 hours and 6% at day five.”

Lifesavers sometimes used backhoes or carefully picked out the debris. It is not known how many people may still be trapped.

In the Turkish city of Malatya, bodies were laid side by side on the ground and covered with blankets as rescuers waited for vehicles to pick them up, according to former journalist Ozel Pikal, who said he saw eight bodies pulled from the rubble of the building. .

Pical, who was involved in the rescue operations, said at least some victims froze to death as temperatures dropped to minus 6 degrees Celsius (21 Fahrenheit).

“As of today, there is no hope left in Malatya,” Pikal said by phone. “No one will get out of the rubble alive.”

He said road closures and damage in the region made it difficult to reach all the areas that needed help, and there was a shortage of rescue workers where he was.

“Our hands can’t take anything because of the cold,” Pical said. “We need working machines.”

The region was already covered more than a decade of civil war in Syria. Millions have been displaced within Syria itself, and millions more have sought refuge in Turkey.

Erdogan said the death toll in Turkey had exceeded 9,000. The Syrian Ministry of Health reported that the death toll in government-controlled areas exceeded 1,200. And at least 1,600 people have been killed in rebel-held northwest Syria, according to volunteer rapid response forces known as the White Helmets.

Thus, the total number reached almost 12 thousand. Tens of thousands more were injured.

Rescue stories still offer hope that some people still trapped may be found alive. Crying the newborn is still connected by the umbilical cord her dead mother was rescued on Monday in Syria. In Kahramanmaras, Turkey, rescuers pulled a 3-year-old boy from the rubble, and rescuers sent by the Israeli military rescued a 2-year-old.

But David Alexander, a professor of emergency planning and management at University College London, said data from past earthquakes suggested that the chances of survival were now slim, especially for seriously injured people.

“Statistically, today is the day we stop finding people,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we have to stop looking.”

Alexander warned that the final death toll may not be known for several weeks due to the large amount of rubble.

The earthquake toll has already surpassed that of the 7.8-magnitude quake in Nepal in 2015, which killed 8,800 people. An earthquake in Japan in 2011 triggered a tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people.

Many of those who survived this week’s earthquake lost their homes and were forced to sleep in cars, government storage facilities or outdoors rain and snow in some areas.

“We have no tent, no stove, nothing. Our children are in bad shape,” said 27-year-old Ison Kurt. “We didn’t die of hunger or earthquake, but we will die freezing to death.”

Some families began to mourn the dead. In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, relatives who rushed to Kahramanmaras to save 21-year-old Mustafa Sonmez buried him instead on Wednesday.

“May God have mercy on the dead. I wish patience to those who survived,” said a relative of Mustafa Chaymaz.

The disaster came at a sensitive time for Erdogan, who is facing an economic downturn and high inflation. The perception that his government has handled the crisis poorly could damage his position. He said the government would distribute 10,000 Turkish liras ($532) to the affected families.

Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu blamed the devastation on Erdogan’s two-decade rule, saying he failed to prepare the country for disaster and accusing him of wasteful spending.

In their efforts to stop misinformation surrounding the earthquake response, police said they had detained 18 people and identified more than 200 social media accounts suspected of “spreading fear and panic”.

Global internet monitor NetBlocks reported that several ISPs have restricted access to Twitter in Turkey. Some trapped survivors took to Twitter to alert rescuers and loved ones, while others used it to criticize the government’s response.

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported that a government official held a video conference with a Twitter representative to remind him of the company’s misinformation responsibilities and obligations under a tough new social media law.

Twitter CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the company was “reaching to understand more,” and the Turkish government later said access would be restored soon.

Musk offered no explanation for why Turkey restricted access in the first place.

The government has periodically restricted access to social media during national emergencies and terrorist attacks, citing national security.

In Syria, relief efforts were thwarted 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.

Ahmad Idris, a Syrian now living in Saraqib after the war, wept in agony as he looked at the bodies of 25 family members.

“We came here to find a safe haven for us and our children,” he said. “But in the end, look how fate caught up with us here.”

Alsayed reported from Bab al-Hawa, Syria. Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. David Rising in Bangkok, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Robert Budendyk in Istanbul contributed to this story.

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