Hope turns to despair in Turkey, Syria 72 hours after earthquakes

While dramatic rescues continue, hopes recede of finding many more survivors amid freezing cold and lack of resources.

Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, Turkey and Harem, Syria – While rescuers continue to work frantically to save survivors from the rubble of collapsed buildings in Turkey, the chances of finding many more people alive are fading rapidly more than 72 hours after the devastating earthquakes.

Turkey’s President Erdogan said at least 14,000 people died in the country from the earthquakes on Monday, while 3,162 people died in Syria, bringing the confirmed total to more than 17,000.

In Kahramanmaras, one of the worst-hit Turkish cities close to the epicentre, rescuers worked relentlessly to pull people from the rubble.

Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar, reporting in front of a collapsed hotel in Kahramanmaras on Thursday, said an estimated 60 people remained under the rubble of the building.

“Unfortunately, since last night, no one came out of the rubble alive,” he said. “But some dead bodies – completely burned – have been taken out from the rubble by the rescue teams. There is a fire – it’s not clear what the source is, but it’s making the extraordinary work of the rescue teams even more difficult.”

Nearly 1,000 buildings in the southern Turkish city have collapsed, and more than 600 people are confirmed to have died there.

Serdar said many people had gathered by the rubble of the hotel, waiting for news of their loved ones, but that it was extremely cold in the city, especially overnight.

“The rescue efforts here are frantic, but with every passing minute the hopes are fading,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Kahramanmaras on Wednesday amid growing anger from those left destitute and frustrated over the slow arrival of rescue teams.

He admitted to problems with his government’s initial response.

“Of course, there are shortcomings,” he said. “The conditions are clear to see. It’s not possible to be ready for a disaster like this.”

He added his government’s target was to rebuild in one year.

“We will start construction of new houses in all those 10 cities to make sure nobody is without a shelter. It will take some time to build those buildings, of course,” he said.

Aerial photo shows the destruction in Kahramanmaras
Rescue teams are at work in Kahramanmaras, southern Turkey [Ahmet Akpolat/DIA via AP]

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Gaziantep, near Turkey’s border with Syria, aftershocks were still continuing as rescuers searched for survivors and bodies.

More than 100 aftershocks have been recorded since the first pre-dawn earthquake on Monday, increasing the risk of more buildings – as well as the mountains of rubble – collapsing.

Rescuers were at work to reach 22 people thought to still be trapped in a flattened building.

“Rescue workers have told us that as they have no longer heard any voices or sounds coming from under the rubble,” Dekker said. “This is now a recovery operation … no longer a rescue one.”

“As time goes on, the prospect of finding anyone alive under these crushing layers of concrete fades,” she added.

In war-torn Syria, the calamity has compounded an existing humanitarian crisis. Rescue efforts are severely restricted by a lack of resources needed to move debris and find survivors.

Ayad Shakir, a resident of Harem, in the northwest Idlib province, told Al Jazeera he had been searching for his cousin and the cousin’s family since Monday.

“We pulled out four people yesterday, his wife and three of his children. We came back today and pulled out the husband, who is my cousin,” he said.

“He has another son and a little daughter, and now we are waiting to get them out.”

Abada Zikri, a Syria Civil Defence volunteer, told Al Jazeera that his team had pulled out a man and a young girl alive from rubble in Harem after 50 hours of work, but said the challenges they faced were immense.

“The civil defence teams are struggling [to find enough] heavy machinery, due to the massive area that has been damaged,” Zikri said.

“Over 400 sites were destroyed completely, and over 250 sites are partially damaged. We urge the international community to help.”

If you want to learn about how to donate to the Turkey and Syria earthquake disaster response, go here.

Source: Al Jazeera