The rescue of several survivors from the rubble in Turkey lifted the spirits of weary search crews on Friday, four days after a major earthquake struck the country and neighbouring Syria, killing more than 21,000 people.
Cold, hunger and despair gripped hundreds of thousands of people left homeless in the middle of winter by the region’s deadliest earthquake in decades.
Several people were pulled from the rubble of buildings during the night, including a 10-year-old boy saved with his mother after 90 hours in the Samandag district of Hatay province in Turkey’s south.
Also in Hatay, a seven-year-old girl named Asya Donmez was rescued after 95 hours and taken to hospital, the state-owned Anadolu news agency reported. In Diyarbakir to the east, Sebahat Varli, 32, and her son Serhat were rescued and taken to hospital on Friday morning, 100 hours after the first quake.
But hopes were fading that many more would be found alive in the ruins of thousands of collapsed buildings in towns and cities across the region.
The death toll from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake and several powerful aftershocks across both countries has surpassed the more than 17,000 killed in 1999 when a similarly powerful earthquake hit northwest Turkey.
The earthquake now ranks as seventh most deadly natural disaster this century, ahead of Japan’s 2011 tremor and tsunami and approaching the 31,000 killed by a quake in neighbouring Iran in 2003.
The disaster has cast doubt on whether a May 14 Turkish election will go ahead on time. A Turkish official said on Thursday it posed “very serious difficulties” for the vote, in which President Tayyip Erdogan has been expected to face his toughest challenge in two decades in power.
With anger simmering over delays in the delivery of aid and getting the rescue effort underway, the disaster is likely to play into the vote if it goes ahead.
UN assistance began flowing into the rebel-held northwestern Syria from Turkey on Thursday, after an aid lifeline critical to some 4 million people was severed by the quake.
But relief efforts in Syria have been complicated by the 11-year-long civil war that has partitioned the country. The United States urged President Bashar al-Assad’s government to immediately allow aid through all border crossings.
In Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, Munira Mohammad, a mother of four who fled Aleppo after the quake, said: “It is all children here, and we need heating and supplies. Last night we couldn’t sleep because it was so cold. It is very bad.”
Many people have set up shelters in supermarket car parks, mosques, roadsides or amid the ruins.
Survivors are often desperate for food, water and heat, and working toilets are sparse in hard-hit areas.
Some 40% of buildings in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, the epicentre of Monday’s main quake, were damaged, according to a report by Turkey’s Bogazici University.
The death toll in Turkey rose to 18,342 by Friday morning and the number injured rose to 74,242, the disaster management authority said.
In Syria, more than 3,300 have been killed, though rescuers have said many more people remain under rubble.
Some 24.4 million people in Syria and Turkey have been affected, according to Turkish officials and the United Nations, in an area spanning roughly 450 km (280 miles) from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east. In Syria, people were killed as far south as Hama, 250 km from the epicentre.
In the Turkish port city of Iskenderun, people huddled around fires on roadsides and in wrecked garages and warehouses. Authorities say some 6,500 buildings in Turkey collapsed and countless more were damaged.
In freezing temperatures across the region, rescue teams regularly called for silence, asking all vehicles and generators to stop as they listened for any sound of life from mangled concrete mounds.
Many in Turkey have complained of a lack of equipment, expertise and support to rescue those trapped — sometimes even as they could hear cries for help.
Greece sent thousands of tents, beds and blankets and Israeli satellite intelligence was helping map the disaster zones in Turkey with technology predominantly used for special operations, the Israeli military said.
UN urges more Syria access
The World Bank is providing Turkey with $1.78 billion in relief and recovery financing, $780 million of which will become available immediately. The US Agency for International Development will provide $85 million in urgent humanitarian assistance to Turkey and Syria.
The Syrian government, which is under Western sanctions, has appealed for UN aid while saying all assistance must be done in coordination with Damascus and delivered from within Syria, not across the Turkish border.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the United States will continue to demand unhindered humanitarian access to Syria and urged Assad’s government to immediately allow aid through all border crossings.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called for more humanitarian access to Syria, saying he would be “very happy” if the United Nations could use more than one border crossing to deliver help.
Damascus views the delivery of aid to rebel-held areas from Turkey as a violation of its sovereignty.
Assad, shunned by Western governments which cite his government’s brutality during the war, has chaired emergency meetings on the earthquake but has not addressed the country in a speech or news conference.