A Syrian mother kisses the hand of her dead daughter, a victim of an earthquake, who will be transported to Syria for burial from the Cilvegozu Turkish border crossing, in Reyhanli, southeastern Turkey, Thursday, February 9, 2023. Rescuers pulled more survivors from the ruins on Thursday, but hopes of finding many more people alive were fading after a catastrophic earthquake and several aftershocks struck Turkey and Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
GAZIANTEP, Turkey (AP) — Thousands of people who lost their homes in a catastrophic earthquake huddled around bonfires and begged for food and water Thursday in the winter chill, three days after the quake and a series of aftershocks struck. Turkey and Syria and will kill more than 17,000 people.
Rescuers continued their race to pull more people alive from the rubble as time was running out to find trapped survivors. Although stories of miraculous rescues briefly brightened the spirits, the harsh reality of hardship for tens of thousands of people who had survived the disaster cast a shadow over the efforts.
In the Turkish city of Antakya, dozens of people were trying to get help in front of a truck delivering children’s coats and other supplies.
Ahmet Tokgoz, a survivor, called on the government to evacuate people from the devastated region. While many of the tens of thousands who have lost their homes have found refuge in tents, stadiums and other temporary accommodation, others have spent nights in the open since Monday’s magnitude 7.8 quake.
“Especially in this cold, it’s not possible to live here,” he said. “People get warm around the bonfires, but the bonfires only warm you up to a certain point (…) If people haven’t died from being trapped under the rubble, they will die of the cold.”
Meanwhile, the first United Nations aid trucks entering rebel-held areas in northwestern Syria from Turkey since the earthquake arrived on Thursday morning. Smaller organizations have sent shipments, but the United Nations is the only one authorized to bring aid through a border crossing and road damage has prevented it until now.
Winter weather and tremor damage to roads and airports have complicated the response to the disaster in a region already reeling from more than a decade of civil war in Syria. That conflict displaced millions of people inside Syria and made many dependent on humanitarian aid. Millions more people sought refuge in Turkey, on the other side of the border.
Some in Turkey have complained about the slow response. Any impression that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has mismanaged the crisis could hurt him in the tough fight for re-election next May. Erdogan, who was scheduled to continue his tour of the affected areas on Thursday, has tried to downplay the criticism.
Meanwhile, emergency teams on both sides of the border worked through the night to search for survivors. Experts noted that the window of survival for people trapped or unable to obtain basic goods was closing rapidly. They also said it was too early to give up hope.
In the Turkish town of Elbistan, rescuers formed human chains as they dug among collapsed buildings and called for silence, hoping to hear the faint calls for help. But more and more often, lifeless bodies were pulled out of the rubble.
Hayva Havam’s family still hoped to see three of them alive again, and they waited by the fire in front of their old home, now a heap of ruins.
In southern Antakya, rescuers pulled a girl, Hazal Guner, from the rubble of a building and her father, Soner Guner, also alive, the IHA news agency reported.
As the man was being prepared to be loaded into an ambulance, rescuers told him that his daughter was alive. “I love you all,” he whispered weakly to the team.
Elsewhere in the city, Serap Arslan said the machinery did not start moving some of the heavy concrete until Wednesday.
“We have tried to remove the rubble on our own, but unfortunately our efforts have been insufficient,” added the 45-year-old man.
More than 110,000 rescuers were already taking part in the efforts, according to the Turkish disaster management agency, and more than 5,500 vehicles such as tractors, cranes, bulldozers and excavators had been dispatched.
In the Syrian government-controlled city of Aleppo, rescue workers pulled seven people alive and 44 bodies from a collapsed building in the city center on Thursday, according to state television.
“We work against time. Time is running out,” said the Syrian White Helmets paramedic group, which operates in the rebel-held northwestern region. “Every second could mean saving a life.”
As in Turkey, heavy machinery was needed to speed up rescues, the group said.
In Syria, aid efforts have been hampered by the war and the isolation of the rebel-held region along the border, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. The country is an international pariah subject to war-linked Western sanctions.
The first UN aid trucks crossed into northwestern Syria from Turkey on Thursday. United Nations officials said they were trying to increase shipments to the area from the capital Damascus.
The convoy had been scheduled before the earthquake, but was delayed by road damage. Trucks with assistance specifically for the new crisis were expected to arrive later, the officials added.
Even so, the scale of the suffering and loss was enormous. Erdogan announced on Thursday that the death toll had passed 14,000 in his country, with more than 63,000 injured. On the Syrian side, which includes areas under government control and other rebels, more than 3,100 deaths and more than 5,000 wounded have been reported.
Erdogan tried to dismiss criticism of the quake response on Wednesday and promised improvements.
“It is not possible to prepare for such a disaster,” he said during a visit to the hard-hit Hatay province. “We will not neglect any of our citizens.”
Regarding the criticism, the president said that “disgraceful people” spread “lies and slander” about the government’s response.
The president announced that the executive would distribute 10,000 Turkish liras ($532) to the affected families.
The death toll from the quake was the highest worldwide since an earthquake off Japan triggered a tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people.
Alsayed reported from Bab al-Hawa, Syria; Fraser from Ankara, Turkey, and Bilginsoy from Istanbul. Associated Press writers David Rising in Bangkok and Robert Badendieck in Istanbul contributed to this report.
Rescue teams search for people among the rubble of destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey, on February 8, 2023. As hopes of finding survivors dwindled, exhausted rescue teams in Turkey and Syria searched for signs of life among the thousands of buildings demolished by a catastrophic earthquake. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)People warm up around a bonfire in front of buildings destroyed by a powerful earthquake, in Antakya, southern Turkey, on February 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)A group of people stand by buildings that collapsed from a powerful earthquake in Golbasi, in Adiyaman province, Turkey, on February 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
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