April 13, 2024

ANTAKYA, Turkey, Feb 7 (Reuters) – The death toll of a devastating earthquake in southern Turkey and Syria jumped to more than 7,800 people on Tuesday as rescuers worked against time in harsh winter conditions to dig survivors out of the rubble of collapsed buildings.

As the scale of the disaster became ever more apparent, the death toll looked likely to rise considerably. One U.N. official said thousands of children may have died.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces. But residents in several damaged Turkish cities voiced anger and despair at what they said was a slow and inadequate response from the authorities to the deadliest earthquake to hit Turkey since 1999.

“There is not even a single person here. We are under the snow, without a home, without anything,” said Murat Alinak, whose home in Malatya had collapsed and whose relatives are missing. “What shall I do, where can I go?”

Monday’s magnitude 7.8 quake, followed hours later by a second one almost as powerful, toppled thousands of buildings including hospitals, schools and apartment blocks, injured tens of thousands, and left countless people homeless in Turkey and northern Syria.

Rescue workers struggled to reach some of the worst-hit areas, held back by destroyed roads, poor weather and a lack of resources and heavy equipment. Some areas were without fuel and electricity.

With little immediate help at hand, residents picked through rubble sometimes without even basic tools in a desperate hunt for survivors.

Aid officials voiced particular concern about the situation in Syria, already afflicted by a humanitarian crisis after nearly 12 years of civil war.

Erdogan declared 10 Turkish provinces a disaster zone and imposed a state of emergency for three months that will permit the government to bypass parliament in enacting new laws and to limit or suspend rights and freedoms.

The government will open up hotels in the tourism hub of Antalya to temporarily house people impacted by the quakes, said Erdogan, who faces a national election in three months’ time.

The death toll in Turkey rose to 5,894, Vice President Fuat Oktay said. More than 34,000 were injured. In Syria, the toll was at least 1,932, according to the government and a rescue service in the insurgent-held northwest.

‘EVERY MINUTE, EVERY HOUR’

Turkish authorities say some 13.5 million people were affected in an area spanning roughly 450 km (280 miles) from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east, and 300 km from Malatya in the north to Hatay in the south.

Syrian authorities have reported deaths as far south as Hama, some 250 km from the epicentre.

“It’s now a race against time,” World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva. “Every minute, every hour that passes, the chances of finding survivors alive diminishes.”

Across the region, rescuers toiled night and day as people waited in anguish by mounds of rubble clinging to the hope that friends, relatives and neighbours might be found alive

In Antakya, capital of Hatay province bordering Syria, rescue teams were thin on the ground and residents picked through debris themselves. People pleaded for helmets, hammers, iron rods and rope.

One woman, aged 54 and named Gulumser, was pulled alive from an eight-storey building 32 hours after the quake.

Another woman then shouted at the rescue workers: “My father was just behind that room she was in. Please save him.”

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