ANTAKYA/ELBISTAN: Rescuers in Turkey pulled out several people alive from collapsed buildings on Monday and were digging to reach a grandmother, mother and daughter from a single family, a week after the country's worst earthquake in modern history.
With hopes of finding many more survivors in the rubble fast fading, the combined official death toll in Turkey and neighbouring Syria from last Monday's 7.8 magnitude quake rose to nearly 36,000 and looked set to keep increasing. The rescue phase is "coming to a close", with urgency now switching to providing shelter, food, schooling and psychosocial care, United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths said during a visit to Aleppo in northern Syria on Monday.
Some 176 hours after the first earthquake, a woman named Serap Donmez on Monday was pulled out alive from a collapsed apartment block in Antakya by search and rescue teams from Turkey and Oman, state broadcaster TRT reported. Another woman was rescued in southern Gaziantep province a few hours earlier CNN Turk reported.
A 35-year-old was rescued from the rubble of a building in Adiyaman city, officials said. Rescue workers in Kahramanmaras said they had contact with a grandmother, mother and baby trapped in one room in a three-storey building, with a fourth person possibly in another room. They said they were trying to break a wall to reach the survivors but a column was delaying them. Members of a Spanish rescue team, Turkish army and police search crews were working at the building, which remained largely intact. "We don't know whether they are alive. We just saw heat with the thermal cameras, but they haven't made any sound," a soldier with the Turkish army told Reuters. The deadliest quake in Turkey since 1939 has killed 31,643 people there, Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority said. More than 4,300 people were reported dead and 7,600 injured in northwest Syria as of Sunday, said a U.N. agency.
The quake is now the sixth most deadly natural disaster this century, behind the 2005 tremor that killed at least 73,000 in Pakistan.
In Syria, the disaster hit hardest in the rebel-held northwest, leaving homeless yet again many people who had already been displaced several times by a decade-old civil war. The region has received little aid compared with government-held areas. "What is the most striking here, is even in Aleppo, which has suffered so much these many years, this moment, that moment... was about the worst that these people have experienced," the UN's Griffiths said. The people of the region have been "failed," he said in an earlier Twitter post.
There is currently only a single crossing open on the Turkey-Syria border for U.N. aid supplies. Griffiths said that the UN would have aid moving from government-held regions in Syria to the rebel-held northwest. The United States called on the Syrian government and all other parties to immediately grant humanitarian access to all those in need.
Earthquake aid from government-held regions into territory controlled by hardline opposition groups has been held up by approval issues with Islamist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which controls much of the region, a U.N. spokesperson said. An HTS source in Idlib told Reuters the group would not allow any shipments from government-held areas and that aid would be coming in from Turkey to the north. The United Nations has said it is hoping to open an additional two border points.
Residents and aid workers from several Turkish cities have cited worsening security conditions, with widespread accounts of businesses and collapsed homes being robbed. In a central district of one of the worst hit cities, Antakya in southern Turkey, business owners emptied their shops on Sunday to prevent merchandise from being stolen by looters.
Amid concerns about hygiene and the spread of infection in the region, Turkey's Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said at the weekend that rabies and tetanus vaccine had been sent to the quake zone and that mobile pharmacies had started to operate there. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said the government will deal firmly with looters, as he faces questions over his response to the earthquake ahead of an election scheduled for June that is expected to be the toughest of his two decades in power. Turkey said on Sunday about 80,000 people were in hospital, and more than 1 million in temporary shelters.