ISKENDERUN, Turkey—Rescue teams were in a race against time Wednesday to find survivors from the twin earthquakes that have killed more than 11,000 people in Turkey and Syria, as freezing temperatures continued to complicate humanitarian efforts and Turkish President Recep
visited the affected areas.
“We are face to face with a great disaster,” said Mr. Erdogan from Kahramanmaras, the center of the quake’s destruction. He said initial problems with rescue operations were beginning to ease but challenges with transporting oil remained.
Mr. Erdogan on Tuesday declared a three-month state of emergency in the quake-hit southern regions of the country, describing the disaster as the worst in a century. Monday’s magnitude-7.8 and -7.5 quakes wreaked havoc along the border, and so far have killed at least 8,574 in Turkey and more than 2,600 in Syria. Those numbers are expected to keep rising.
Rescue workers continued to pull bodies from the wreckage in freezing temperatures and snowfall, with some of the hardest-hit areas of Turkey forecast to remain at around 16 degrees Fahrenheit.
Northwest of hard-hit Kahramanmaras, a snowstorm covered roads, making transport more difficult. Authorities tried to bring in more excavators to the affected regions to help with the search.
In the southern Turkish port town of Iskenderun, a sobbing father pulled the bodies of his wife and two boys, ages 10 and 12, from a collapsed building early Wednesday. The mother was found with a handbag over her shoulder, seemingly trying to escape as the family was crushed.
“I love you, I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you,” he said to their bodies, the faces still bloody. “What kind of justice is this?”
First earthquake intensity
7.5 magnitude at 1:24 p.m.
7.8 magnitude at 4:17 a.m.
First earthquake intensity
at 1:24 p.m.
at 4:17 a.m.
Mr. Erdogan, who is seeking to extend his more than 20 years in power in elections later this year, has been less visible than other ministers since Monday when the earthquakes struck. Mr. Erdogan, who often dominates the Turkish airwaves, gave a short address to the nation on Monday followed by a press statement on Tuesday. But he has left other officials, including the vice president, health minister and interior minister, to give regular updates.
Opponents are already criticizing the government’s response as too slow, saying Mr. Erdogan hasn’t done enough in recent years to prepare the nation for a disaster of this magnitude.
Turkey’s disaster-management agency said it had deployed 60,000 personnel, with hundreds of thousands of tents, mattresses, blankets and pillows, as well as 10 ships and 100 aircraft and helicopters.
Samir Al-Chakieh, a rescue worker from Lebanon, said his team had worked through the night with spotlights and flashlights, going to 12 different collapsed buildings in 12 hours in the city of Elbistan.
Early Wednesday, Turkish authorities brought an excavator to the rescue site, but it broke within hours and the team was working to fix it, Mr. Chakieh said.
The group was instead relying on shovels and crowbars to pry the rubble apart and sonar and thermal cameras to find those still trapped.
By late morning, they had removed eight dead bodies but were able to recover an expectant mother and her daughter. “Hopefully we saved three lives,” he said.
The biggest problem they faced is a lack of equipment, he said, adding that they hoped to save some people trapped under the buildings, depending on their injuries and whether they could be reached before nightfall.
“The temperature here at night is minus 8 degrees [Celsius],” he said.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Israeli teams had saved four survivors trapped under the rubble, including a 12-year-old boy. First responders entered the basement of a collapsed building in the area of Kahramanmaras when they heard a faint voice.
“At first we weren’t sure where it was from,” said Oren Rosner, a major in Israel’s civil defense. “Then we heard it better and began heading after it.”
After hours of maneuvering in the rubble, Israeli responders managed to free the boy before dawn. He had been trapped for hours in an air pocket between a couch and the wall of his home, Maj. Rosner said.
Syria faces additional challenges, as the political isolation of President
and his government’s policy of starving civilians of assistance in rebel-controlled territory is complicating efforts to get aid into the war-torn country.
Doctors Without Borders said it was struggling to help survivors in northern Syria, a rebel-held area that is only accessible through a tight corridor on the Turkish border. The roads and highways leading to the only United Nations-approved border crossing between northwestern Syria and Turkey are damaged. Doctors Without Borders has close to 500 staff members in the rebel-held enclave.
Mohamad Katoub, a project manager at Berlin-based nongovernmental organization Impact, said another challenge is that the rescue teams leading the response in Syria are based in Gaziantep, Turkey, where the earthquake caused severe damage. They “can hardly take care of their families,” Mr. Katoub said. Mr. Katoub said the operational challenges mean external support may arrive too late. “In 24 hours, the rescue team will shift from evacuations of survivors to recover dead bodies unless more teams from the region join them,” he said late on Tuesday.
Relief efforts in opposition areas of Syria are being led by Syria Civil Defense, a volunteer group specialized in medical evacuation and search-and-rescue after bombing raids during the civil war.
The group, also known as the White Helmets, pulled a young girl from her home Wednesday in the town of Salqin near the Turkish border after 40 hours trapped under rubble.
“Once again, another miracle,” the White Helmets said in a tweet.
It launched an online fundraiser Wednesday to buy equipment and supplies, and within nine hours of posting had raised two-thirds of its $50,000 goal.
“We still hear cries for help from those trapped under the rubble,” the group said on the website seeking funding. It has about 2,000 volunteers on the ground.
—Suryatapa Bhattacharya, Aaron Boxerman and Benoit Faucon contributed to this article.
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