Gaziantep, Turkey – Rescuers pulled more survivors from under the rubble of collapsed buildings on Thursday, but hopes were beginning to fade of finding many more people alive more than three days later catastrophic earthquakes and a series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 17,000 people.
The United States Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, confirmed on Thursday that at least three Americans were among the dead in that country.
Experts said the window of survival for those trapped in rubble or otherwise unable to get basic necessities was closing fast. At the same time, they said it was too early to give up hope.
“The first 72 hours are considered critical,” said Steven Godby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University in England. “The average survival rate within 24 hours is 74%, after 72 hours it is 22% and on the fifth day it is 6%.”
The death toll continues to climb.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that 14,014 people had been killed in his country and more than 67,000 injured. On the Syrian side of the border, 3,577 dead and more than 6,300 injured were reported, bringing the death toll in the two countries to 17,591.
Risklayer, which describes itself as a “transparent and independent collaborative disaster risk management company in Germany and Australia”, tweeted on Wednesday that he projects the death toll could end up exceeding 45,000.
And rating agency Fitch said on Thursday that economic losses from the earthquakes could amount to more than $4 billion, Agence France-Presse reported.
Teams from more than two dozen countries have joined local emergency personnel in the effort. But the scale of the destruction caused by the earthquake and its powerful aftershocks was so immense and spread over such a vast area that many people were still waiting for help.
The first UN humanitarian aid trucks to enter rebel-held northwest Syria from Turkey since the quake arrived on Thursday morning. Smaller aid organizations have sent shipments, but the UN is only allowed to deliver aid through one border crossing and road damage has prevented it so far.
Tens of thousands of people are believed to have lost their homes. In Antakya, former residents of a collapsed building huddled around an outdoor fire overnight Thursday, wrapping blankets tightly around them to try to stay warm.
Ahmet Tokgoz, a survivor, called on the government to evacuate residents of the devastated area. While many of the tens of thousands of people who lost their homes have found refuge in tents, stadiums and other temporary accommodation, others have spent the night outdoors since Monday’s quakes.
“Especially in this cold, it’s not possible to live here,” he said. “People get warm around campfires, but campfires can only warm you so much. … If people haven’t died from being stuck under rubble, they will freeze to death.”
Serap Arslan said many people remained under the rubble of the nearby building, including her mother and brother. She said the machines only started moving some of the heavy concrete on Wednesday.
“We tried to pull him out on our own, but unfortunately we were very ill-prepared for the job,” the 45-year-old said.
Selen Ekimen wiped the tears from her face with gloved hands as she explained that her parents and brother were still buried.
There has been “no sound from them for days,” she said. “None.”
Erdogan was due to visit the earthquake-hit provinces of Gaziantep, Osmaniye and Kilis on Thursday amid continued criticism that the government’s response has been too slow.
According to the disaster management agency, more than 110,000 rescue workers are now taking part in the effort and more than 5,500 vehicles, including tractors, cranes, bulldozers and excavators, have been dispatched.
The task is monumental, however, with thousands of buildings toppled by the quake.
Erdogan, who faces an uphill battle for re-election in May, acknowledged problems with the emergency response to Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake but said wintry weather had been a factor. The earthquake also destroyed the runway at Hatay Airport, further disrupting the response.
“It is not possible to be prepared for such a catastrophe,” Erdogan said. “We will not leave any of our citizens without care.” He also hit back at critics, saying “dishonorable people” were spreading “lies and slander” about government actions.
Turkish authorities also said they were targeting misinformation, and internet monitoring group NetBlocks said on Wednesday that access to Twitter in Turkey had been restricted, despite being used by survivors to alert rescuers. However, Twitter CEO Elon Musk tweeted On Wednesday evening, “Twitter was informed by the Turkish government that access will soon be reactivated”.
And NetBlocks tweeted on Thursday that “access to Twitter is being restored in #Turkey after hours filtering. The restoration comes after authorities held a meeting with Twitter to “remind Twitter of its obligations ‘regarding content and misinformation removal’.”
The disaster comes at a sensitive time for Erdogan, who faces an economic slowdown and high inflation. The perception that his government mishandled the crisis could damage his reputation. He said the government would distribute 10,000 Turkish liras ($532) to affected families.
Syrians living in the village of al-Teloul in the Idlib countryside, an area controlled by the rebels, had to evacuate their homes overnight after a makeshift dam built by the villagers there collapsed. years ago and the overflow of water from the al-Aasi river in their village, reports social networks said.
In Kabul, hundreds of Afghans, including women and children, rushed to the airport after a false rumor spread that flights were leaving for Turkey to help rescue earthquake victims. earth. UN special envoy Geir Pedersen said earlier that residents of the Syrian part of the quake zone needed “more of absolutely everything”.
Abdul Ghafar, 26, a resident of Kabul, said he “heard that Turkey was taking people away, so I thought I could go and help people in need”, adding: “It can also be an opportunity for me to find a way out of the country.”
Ghafar waited three hours in cold weather near the airport, returning home after Taliban forces said there were no such flights to Turkey.
The Turkey-Dyria border region was already plagued by the civil war in Syria. Millions of people have been displaced within Syria itself and millions more have sought refuge in Turkey.
In Syria, aid efforts have been hampered by the ongoing war and the isolation of the rebel-held region along the border, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Syria itself is an international pariah under Western war-related sanctions.
The death toll from the quake has already exceeded that of a 7.8 magnitude quake in Nepal in 2015, which killed 8,800. An earthquake in Japan in 2011 triggered a tsunami, killing nearly 20,000 people.
— Khaled Wassef contributed reporting