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VIDEO: Turkey earthquake survivors face despair, as rescues wane

Quake killed more than 35,000, reduced towns and cities to fragments of concrete and twisted metal

Thousands left homeless by a massive earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria a week ago packed into crowded tents or lined up in the streets for hot meals Monday, while the desperate search for anyone still alive likely entered its last hours.

One crew wrested a 4-year-old girl from rubble in hard-hit Adiyaman, buried in debris since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck. In nearby Hatay province, rescuers cheered and clapped as a 13-year-old boy, identified only by his first name, Kaan, was rescued 182 hours after the quake. Thousands of local and overseas teams, including Turkish coal miners and experts aided by sniffer dogs and thermal cameras, are scouring pulverized apartment blocks for signs of life.

While stories of near-miraculous rescues have flooded the airwaves in recent days — many broadcast live on Turkish television and beamed around the world — tens of thousands of dead have been found during the same period. Experts say given temperatures that have fallen to minus 6 degrees Celsius (21 degrees Fahrenheit) — and the total collapse of so many buildings — the window for such rescues is nearly shut.

The quake and its aftershocks, including a major one nine hours after the initial temblor, struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria on Feb. 6, killing more than 35,000 and reducing whole swaths of towns and cities inhabited by millions to fragments of concrete and twisted metal. Senior United Nations officials conceded that help to quake victims in Syria had been too slow, and Turkey Monday offered to open a second border crossing to assist the international effort.

Damage included heritage sites in places like Antakya, on the southern coast of Turkey, an important ancient port and early center of Christianity historically known as Antioch. Greek Orthodox churches in the region have started charity drives to assist the relief effort and raise funds to eventually rebuild or repair churches.

Some 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the epicenter, almost no houses were left standing in the village of Polat, where residents salvaged refrigerators, washing machines and other goods from wrecked homes.

Not enough tents have arrived for the homeless, said survivor Zehra Kurukafa, forcing families to share the tents that are available.

“We sleep in the mud, all together with two, three, even four families,” said Kurukafa.

Turkish authorities said Monday that more than 150,000 survivors have been moved to shelters outside the affected provinces. In the city of Adiyaman, Musa Bozkurt waited for a vehicle to bring him and others to western Turkey.

“We’re going away, but we have no idea what will happen when we get there,” said the 25-year-old. “We have no goal. Even if there was (a plan) what good will it be after this hour? I no longer have my father or my uncle. What do I have left?”

But Fuat Ekinci, a 55-year-old farmer, was reluctant to leave his home for western Turkey despite the destruction, saying he didn’t have the means to live elsewhere and had fields that need to be tended.

“Those who have the means are leaving, but we’re poor,” he said. “The government says, go and live there a month or two. How do I leave my home? My fields are here, this is my home, how do I leave it behind?”

Volunteers from across Turkey have mobilized to help millions of survivors, including a group of chefs and restaurant owners who served traditional food such as beans and rice and lentil soup to survivors who lined up in the streets of downtown Adiyaman.

Other volunteers continued with the rescue efforts. After rescuers pulled out the 4-year-old, a relative told HaberTurk television that more loved ones were inside the building.

As the scale of the disaster comes into view, sorrow and disbelief have turned to rage over the sense there has been an ineffective response to the historic disaster. That anger could be a political problem for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces a tough reelection battle in May.

Meanwhile, rescue workers, including coal miners who secured salvage tunnels with wooden supports, found a woman alive Monday in the wreckage of a five-story building in Turkey’s Gaziantep province.

Syrian authorities said a newborn whose mother gave birth while trapped under the rubble of their home was doing well. The baby, Aya, was found hours after the quake, still connected by the umbilical cord to her mother, who was dead. She is being breastfed by the wife of the director of the hospital where she is being treated.

Such tales have given many hope, but Eduardo Reinoso Angulo, a professor at the Institute of Engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the likelihood of finding people alive was “very, very small now.”

David Alexander, a professor of emergency planning and management at University College London, agreed. But he added that the odds were not very good to begin with.

Many of the buildings were so poorly constructed that they collapsed into very small pieces, leaving very few spaces large enough for people to survive in, Alexander said.

“If a frame building of some kind goes over, generally speaking we do find open spaces in a heap of rubble where we can tunnel in,“ Alexander said. “Looking at some of these photographs from Turkey and from Syria, there just aren’t the spaces.”

Wintery conditions further reduce the window for survival. In the cold, the body shivers to keep warm — but that burns a lot of calories, meaning that people also deprived of food will die more quickly, said Dr. Stephanie Lareau, a professor of emergency medicine at Virginia Tech.

Many in Turkey blame faulty construction for the vast devastation, and authorities have begun targeting contractors allegedly linked with buildings that collapsed. Turkey has introduced construction codes that meet earthquake-engineering standards, but experts say the codes are rarely enforced.

Turkey’s death toll from the quake has exceeded 31,000. Deaths in Syria, split between rebel-held areas and government-held areas, have risen beyond 3,500, although those reported by the government haven’t been updated in days.

Visiting the Turkish-Syrian border Sunday, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths said that the international community has failed to provide aid.

Griffiths said Syrians “rightly feel abandoned.” He added: “My duty and our obligation is to correct this failure as fast as we can.”

In the Syrian capital of Damascus Monday, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, told reporters that “troubles” regarding the flow of aid to Syria’s rebel-held northwest are “now being corrected.”

The Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria, meanwhile, said that 53 trucks carrying aid had crossed from Kurdish territory into earthquake-damaged areas controlled by rival Turkish-backed rebels in northwest Syria who had previously prevented convoys from crossing. Turkish authorities consider the Syrian Democratic Forces to be a terrorist group, along with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Turkey-based Kurdish separatist group.

—Mehmet Guzel, Suzan Fraser And Sarah El Deeb, The Associated Press

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Zehra Kurukafa, right, talks to her husband Mustafa Kurukafa in front of their destroyed house in Polat, Turkey, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023. Five days after two powerful earthquakes hours apart caused scores of buildings to collapse, killing thousands of people and leaving millions homeless, rescuers were still pulling unlikely survivors from the ruins. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
A man stands on top of the rubble of his house destroyed during an earthquake in Antakya, southeastern Turkey, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023. Six days after earthquakes killed tens of thousands in Syria and Turkey, sorrow and disbelief are turning to anger and tension. Many in Turkey have a sense that there has been an ineffective, unfair and disproportionate response to the historic disaster. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)