Frustration mounts for Turkey, Syria earthquake survivors left homeless

Thousands who lost their homes in a catastrophic earthquake huddled around campfires and clamoured for food and water in the bitter cold, three days after the temblor and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 19,300.

Rescuers continued their race to pull more people alive from the rubble, with the window closing to find trapped survivors. While stories of miraculous rescues briefly buoyed spirits, the grim reality of the hardship facing tens of thousands who survived the disaster cast a pall. In the Turkish city of Antakya, dozens of people scrambled for aid in front of a truck distributing children’s coats and other supplies.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless in the middle of winter. Many have camped out in makeshift shelters in supermarket parking lots, mosques, roadsides or amid the ruins since Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake, often desperate for food, water and heat.

Ahmet Tokgoz called for the government to evacuate people from the devastated region.

“Especially in this cold, it is not possible to live here,” he said. “People are warming up around campfires, but campfires can only warm you up so much.… If people haven’t died from being stuck under the rubble, they’ll die from the cold.”

WATCH | People left homeless cope with conditions, feelings of hopelessness:

The enormous scale of earthquakes’ destruction in Turkey

17 hours ago

Duration 2:41

CBC’s Briar Stewart shows the full scale of the devastation in the Turkish cities of Pazarcık and Gaziantep, located at the epicentre of the second deadly earthquake that struck Turkey.

Winter weather and damage to roads and airports from the quake have hampered the response throughout a region already contending with the repercussions of more than a decade of civil war in Syria. That conflict displaced millions of people within Syria and left many reliant on humanitarian aid, while also sending millions more over the border into Turkey to seek refuge.

Aid efforts in Syria have been hampered by the ongoing war and the isolation of the rebel-held region along the border, which is surrounded by Russia-backed government forces. Meanwhile, Syria itself is an international pariah under Western sanctions linked to the war.

UN aid reaches Syria for 1st time since quake

In the Syrian government-held city of Aleppo, rescue workers pulled seven people out alive and 44 bodies from a collapsed building in the city centre on Thursday, state TV reported.

“We are racing against time. Time is running out,” said the Syrian paramedic group in the rebel-held northwest known as the White Helmets. “Every second could mean saving a life.”

An aerial shot shows flooded land and partially submerged buildings.
An aerial view shows a destroyed building in a flooded area after the collapse of a dam on the Orontes River near al-Tulul village in Salqin, in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province. (Abdulaziz Ketaz/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Thursday that the death toll had risen to more than 16,100 in his country, with more than 64,000 injured. On the Syrian side, which includes in government-held and rebel-held areas, of the border, more than 3,100 have been reported dead — some 1,900 in rebel-held enclaves — and more than 5,000 injured.

A United Nations convoy carrying aid to Syrians entered the Bab Al Hawa crossing from Turkey.

The shipment was scheduled before the earthquake happened but was delayed by the road damage. UN officials said more trucks were set to follow with assistance specifically for the current crisis.

UN special Syria envoy Geir Pedersen earlier said people impacted by the earthquake needed “more of absolutely everything” in terms of aid.

Prior to the earthquake, the UN had estimated that more than four million people in northwest Syria, many displaced by the 12-year conflict there, depended on cross-border aid.

LISTEN | Toronto resident Alaa Alakel and her brother speak to CBC’s Front Burner:

Front Burner21:24Brother in Syria, sister in Canada, ‘helpless’ after devastating earthquake

Erdogan sends mixed messages

Back in Turkey, some have complained the response was too slow. Any perception that Erdogan’s government has mismanaged the crisis could hurt him at a time when he faces a tough battle for re-election in May.

Erdogan — who was scheduled to continue his tour of devastated areas on Thursday — has sought to play down the criticism.

People in Hatay, Turkey, wait for news of their loved ones, believed to be trapped under collapsed buildings, on Wednesday. ( Burak Kara/Getty Images)

“It is not possible to be prepared for such a disaster,” he said the previous day. “We will not leave any of our citizens uncared for.”

Erdogan said the government would distribute 10,000 Turkish lira ($712 Cdn) to affected families.

He also hit back at critics, saying “dishonourable people” were spreading “lies and slander” about the government’s actions. For a time Wednesday it appeared that Twitter access within the country was being restricted, but early Thursday internet monitoring company NetBlocks noted in a post that Twitter service “is being restored in Turkey following hours of filtering.”

In the Turkish town of Elbistan, rescuers formed human chains as they dug through collapsed buildings, urging quiet in the hopes of hearing stifled pleas for help. But more and more often, they pulled out dead bodies from under the rubble.

Weary father relieved to hear about daughter

In Antakya to the south, rescuers pulled out a young girl, Hazal Guner, from the ruins of a building and also rescued her father, Soner Guner, news agency IHA reported. As they prepared to load the man into an ambulance, rescue crews told him that his daughter was alive.

“I love you all,” he faintly whispered.

Elsewhere in the city, Serap Arslan said machinery only started to move some of the heavy concrete covering trapped people on Wednesday.

“We tried to clear the debris on our own, but unfortunately our efforts have been insufficient,” the 45-year-old said.

Turkey’s disaster management agency said more than 110,000 rescue personnel were now taking part in the effort and more than 5,500 vehicles, including tractors, cranes, bulldozers and excavators, had been shipped.

The earthquake’s toll is the highest worldwide since a 2011 earthquake off Japan triggered a tsunami, killing nearly 20,000 people.

The Turkish death toll could also surpass a 7.4-magnitude temblor that struck near Istanbul in 1999 and killed an estimated 18,000 people.

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