Hope fading as deaths in Turkey, Syria quake pass 11,000
GAZIANTEP, Turkey (AP) — With hope fading to find survivors, stretched rescue teams toiled Wednesday in Turkey and Syria, searching for signs of life in the rubble of thousands of buildings toppled by a catastrophic earthquake.
The death toll passed 11,000 in the deadliest quake worldwide in more than a decade.
Amid calls for the Turkish government to send more help to the disaster zone, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured a “tent city” in hard-hit Kahramanmaras where people forced from their homes are living. He conceded shortfalls early on in the response but vowed that no one would “be left in the streets.”
Search teams from more than two dozen countries have joined tens of thousands of local emergency personnel, and aid pledges have poured in from around the world. But the scale of destruction from the 7.8 magnitude quake and its powerful aftershocks was so immense — and spread so wide, including in areas isolated by Syria's ongoing civil war — that many are still waiting for help.
At times rescuers were using excavators, at others they picked gingerly through debris to find survivors or the dead. With thousands of buildings toppled, it was not clear how many people might still be trapped underneath the rubble.
In the Turkish city of Malatya, bodies were placed side by side on the ground, covered in blankets, while rescuers waited for funeral vehicles to pick them up, according to former journalist Ozel Pikal who saw eight bodies pulled from the ruins of a building.
Pikal, who took part in the rescue efforts, said he believed at least some of the victims froze to death as temperatures dipped to minus 6 degrees Celsius (21 Fahrenheit).
“Today isn't a pleasant day because as of today there is no hope left in Malatya,” Pikal said via telephone. “No one is coming out alive from the rubble.”
Road closures and damage in the region made it hard to access all the areas that need help, he said, and there was a shortage of rescuers where he was. Meanwhile, cold hampered the efforts of those who were there, including volunteers.
“Our hands cannot pick up anything because of the cold,” said Pikal. “Work machines are needed.”
The region was already beset by more than a decade of civil war in Syria that has displaced millions in that country and left them reliant on humanitarian aid and sent millions more to seek refuge in Turkey.
Turkey's president said the country's death toll passed 8,500. The Syrian Health Ministry, meanwhile, said the death toll in government-held areas has climbed past 1,200, while at least 1,400 people have died in the rebel-held northwest, according to volunteer first responders known as the White Helmets.
That brought the overall total to 11,000 since Monday's earthquake and multiple strong aftershocks. Tens of thousands more are injured.
The region sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 were killed in similarly powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkey in 1999.
A 2011 earthquake near Japan that triggered a tsunami left nearly 20,000 people dead.
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