The death toll from Monday’s terrible earthquake in Turkey and Syria climbed past 5,000 on Tuesday, as rescuers worked desperately to save victims trapped under the wreckage despite the growing despair and the massive scope of the disaster.
The early Monday morning quake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, was the deadliest in Turkey since 1999. It caused the collapse of hundreds of buildings, including several apartment blocks, damaged hospitals, and rendered thousands of people in Turkey and Syria homeless or injured.
Journalists from Reuters observed rescue efforts being made on one of the dozens of piles of rubble in the streets of Antakya, a Turkish city near the Syrian border. There was no heat or power, and the raindrops felt like they were falling from the sky.
Authorities in Turkey estimate that 13.5 million people in a 450-kilometer-wide swath from Adana to Diyarbakir and a 300-kilometer swath from Malatya to Hatay were impacted. Deaths have been reported as far south as Hama, Syria (about 100 km from the epicenter).
Vice President Fuat Oktay reported that 3,419 people had died in Turkey and that extreme weather was making it difficult to deliver aid to the affected areas. Nearly 1,600 people have died in Syria, where the government and rescue service in the insurgent-held northwest report, and where the earthquake exacerbated infrastructure damage caused by 11 years of war.
The nighttime search was complicated by the subzero temperatures and snowfall. Under a heap of debris in the southern Turkish province of Hatay, a woman’s voice could be heard pleading for rescue. A small child’s body lay motionless nearby. A local who identified himself as Deniz was seen sobbing in the rain.
They’re making noises, he said, but no one was showing up. We are heartbroken beyond words. My God … They’re yelling for help. Their cries of “Save us” are futile, however. We need to figure out how to rescue them. Since the morning, I have not seen a single person. Lots of other families slept in their cars, which they had parked in a row in the middle of the street.
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Ayla, who was standing next to the ruins of an eight-story building, explained that she had traveled to Hatay from Gaziantep on Monday to look for her mother. Firefighters from Istanbul’s fire service were working in the rubble, which consisted of concrete and glass.
There are currently no known living individuals. A stray dog showed up and kept barking at the same spot; I thought it might be looking for my mom. “No, that was somebody else,” she insisted. To aid the rescue workers, I activated the car’s lights. There are only two bodies and no survivors that they have removed.
Rather than declaring a state of emergency, which would lead to widespread military mobilization, Ankara issued a “level 4 alarm,” which requests international aid.
The Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) reported that 5,775 buildings had been damaged or destroyed and 20,426 people were injured as a result of the earthquake and its 285 aftershocks.
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