HomeWorldQuake survivors struggle as death toll passes 19,000

Quake survivors struggle as death toll passes 19,000


ANTAKYA, Turkey (AP) — Tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in a catastrophic earthquake huddled around campfires in the bitter cold and clamored for food and water Thursday, three days after the temblor hit Turkey and Syria and killed more than 19,300.

Emergency crews used pick axes, shovels and jackhammers to dig through twisted metal and concrete — and occasionally still pulled out survivors. But in some places, their focus shifted to demolishing unsteady buildings.

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While stories of miraculous rescues briefly buoyed spirits, the grim reality of the hardship facing survivors cast a pall over devastated communities. The number of deaths surpassed the toll of a 2011 earthquake off Fukushima, Japan, that triggered a tsunami, killing more than 18,400 people.

In northwest Syria, the first U.N. aid trucks to enter the rebel-controlled area from Turkey since the quake arrived, underscoring the difficulty of getting help to people in the country riven by civil war. In the Turkish city of Antakya, dozens scrambled for aid in front of a truck distributing children’s coats and other supplies.

One survivor, Ahmet Tokgoz, called for the government to evacuate people from the region. Many of those who have lost their homes found shelter in tents, stadiums and other temporary accommodation, but others have slept outdoors.

“Especially in this cold, it is not possible to live here,” he said. “If people haven’t died from being stuck under the rubble, they’ll die from the cold.”

Winter weather and damage to roads and airports have hampered the response in both Turkey and Syria. Some in Turkey have complained the response was too slow — a perception that could hurt President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a time when he faces a tough battle for reelection in May.

In the Turkish town of Elbistan, rescuers stood atop the rubble from a collapsed home and pulled out an elderly woman.

Teams urged quiet in the hopes of hearing stifled pleas for help, and the Syrian paramedic group known as the White Helmets noted that “every second could mean saving a life.”

But more and more often, the teams pulled out dead bodies. In Antakya, over 100 bodies were awaiting identification in a makeshift morgue outside a hospital.

With the chances of finding people alive in the rubble dwindling, teams in some places began demolishing buildings.

In Adiyaman, Associated Press journalists saw a resident plead with rescuers to look through the rubble of a building where relatives were trapped. The crew refused, saying there was no one alive there, and they had to prioritize areas where there may be survivors.

A man, who gave only his name as Ahmet out of fear of government retribution, later asked the AP: “How can I go home and sleep? My brother is there. He may still be alive.”

In Nurdagi, throngs of onlookers — mostly family members of people trapped inside — watched as heavy machines ripped at one building that had collapsed, its six floors pancaked together.

Mehmet Yilmaz watched from a distance, estimating that around 80 people were still beneath the rubble but that it was unlikely any would be found alive.

“There’s no hope,” said Yilmaz, 67, who had six relatives, including a 3-month-old baby, trapped inside. “We can’t give up our hope in God, but they entered the building with listening devices and dogs, and there was nothing.”

Authorities called off search-and-rescue operations in the cities of Kilis and Sanliurfa, where destruction was not as severe as in other impacted regions.

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