Published: 11:03, February 12, 2023 | Updated: 16:52, February 12, 2023
Survivors ever fewer in quake rubble of Türkiye and Syria
By Reuters

A Syrian boy, who lost his family and was also wounded as a result of the deadly earthquake hit Türkiye and Syria, carries a book as he stands amid the rubble of his family home in the town of Jindayris, in Syria's Aleppo province on Feb 11, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

ANTAKYA, Türkiye/JANDARIS, Syria - Rescuers pulled a survivor from earthquake rubble on Sunday, six days after one of the worst natural disasters to hit parts of Syria and Türkiye, as the death toll exceeded 28,000 and looked set to rise further.

Facing questions over his handling of Türkiye's most devastating earthquake since 1939, President Tayyip Erdogan promised to start rebuilding within weeks, saying hundreds of thousands of buildings were wrecked.

In Syria, the disaster hit hardest in the rebel-held northwest, leaving many homeless for a second time after they were displaced by a decade-old civil war, though the region has received little aid compared to government-held areas.

The earthquake has killed 24,617 inside Türkiye, and more than 3,500 in Syria, where tolls have not been updated since Friday

The European Union's envoy to Syria urged Damascus not to politicize issues of humanitarian aid, rejecting accusations that the bloc had failed to provide sufficient help to Syrians after Monday's 7.8-magnitude quake and major aftershocks.

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"It is absolutely unfair to be accused of not providing aid, when actually we have constantly been doing exactly that for over a decade and we are doing so much more even during the earthquake crisis," Dan Stoenescu told Reuters.

In Türkiye's southeastern province of Hatay, a Romanian rescue team carried a 35-year-old man named Mustafa down a pile of debris from a building, broadcaster CNN Turk said, about 149 hours after the quake.

"His health is good, he was talking," said one of the rescuers. "He was saying, 'Get me out of here quickly, I've got claustrophobia'."

The team placed the man, lying on a stretcher and wrapped in a gold foil blanket in a waiting ambulance, before hugging each other.

'Looters with knives'

On Saturday, Gizem, a rescue worker from the southeastern province of Sanliurfa, said she had seen looters in the city of Antakya. "We cannot intervene much, as most of the looters carry knives."

Police and soldiers fanned out to keep order and help with traffic, rescues and food handouts.

Turkey said about 80,000 people were in hospital, with more than 1 million in temporary shelters.

With basic infrastructure in ruins, survivors feared disease.

Rescuers lead a rescue operation to save 24-year-old Melisa Ulku from the rubble of a collapsed building at Elbistan district of Kahramanmaras on February 11, 2023, five days after a 7,8-magnitude earthquake struck southeast Türkiye. (PHOTO / AFP)

"If people don't die here under the rubble, they'll die from injuries. If not, they will die from infection," said Gizem. "There is no toilet here. It is a big problem."

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths described the earthquake as the region's worst event in 100 years, predicting the death toll would at least double.

He praised Türkiye's response, saying his experience was that disaster victims were always disappointed by early relief efforts.

The earthquake hit as Erdogan faces a national election scheduled for June. Even before the disaster, his popularity was falling due to soaring inflation and a slumping Turkish currency.

READ MORE: More than 1,700 dead as major quake hits Türkiye, Syria

The vote was already being seen as Erdogan's toughest challenge in two decades in power. He has called for solidarity and condemned "negative" politicking.

Some people affected by the quake and opposition politicians have accused the government of slow and inadequate relief efforts early on, and critics have questioned why the army, which played a key role after a 1999 earthquake, was not brought in sooner.

Erdogan has acknowledged problems, such as the challenge of delivering aid despite damaged transport links, but said the situation had been brought under control.

Prosecutors investigating the soundness of buildings that collapsed have ordered the detention or arrest of as many as 95 people, the state-owned Anadolu news agency said.

A person holds a photo as rescuers search for survivors amid destroyed buildings in Nurdagi, in the hard hit region of Gaziantep, on Feb 11, 2023, five days after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the border region of Türkiye and Syria. (PHOTO / AFP)

The quake ranks as the world's seventh deadliest natural disaster this century, its toll approaching the 31,000 from a quake in neighbouring Iran in 2003.

It has killed 24,617 inside Türkiye, and more than 3,500 in Syria, where tolls have not been updated since Friday.

In Syria's government-controlled city of Aleppo, World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the disaster as heartbreaking as he supervised some relief distribution and promised more.