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Rescue works continue in Turkey and Syria but hopes to find more survivors fade

Rescuers in Turkey continue to pull out more people from under the rubble, however, five days after the country’s most devastating earthquake since 1939, hopes to find more survivors are beginning to fade.

In some regions, fewer rescue operations were visible amid the devastated buildings and apartment blocks, while ever more trucks passed through the streets carrying out debris.

Turkey-Syria Earthquake Update: The total death toll across the two countries has surpassed 23,000. Thousands remain unaccounted for in the ravaged areas. Take a look at this aerial view of Antakya,

— Steve Hanke (@steve_hanke) February 10, 2023

Meanwhile, the earthquake’s death toll keeps growing, already exceeding 25,250 across southern Turkey and northwest Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, facing questions over earthquake emergency planning and response times, said authorities should have reacted faster.

He promised that the government will start work on rebuilding cities “within weeks”. Erdoğan also issued stern warnings against any people involved in looting in the quake zone, as several residents and rescue workers said they had seen looting.

German and Austrian rescue workers pause work due to security risks

Two German aid organizations suspended rescue operations in quake-hit Turkey on Saturday, citing security problems and reports of clashes between groups of people, and gunfire.

They said that said they would resume their work as soon as the Turkish civil protection agency AFAD classifies the situation as safe.

Moreover, the Austrian Forces Disaster Relief Unit (AFDRU) also briefly suspended operations on Saturday. Resuming works after Defence Ministry spokesperson Michael Bauer stated that the Turkish army had taken over the protection of the AFDRU contingent.

Polish rescue team

Twelve people have been pulled alive from ruined buildings in Turkey by a Polish search and rescue team, a spokesman for Poland’s State Fire Service has said.

“After 21 hours of work in extreme conditions, Polish and Bulgarian rescuers have pulled out a 12th person from the rubble of a building in Besni!” he wrote on Twitter on Friday night.

🇵🇱🧑🏻‍🚒🇧🇬 Po 21 godzinach pracy, w ekstremalnych warunkach, polscy oraz bułgarscy ratownicy wydobyli 12 osobę spod gruzów budynku w Besni‼️Wielka radość, szacunek i duma 👏👍💪♥️ #MisjaTurcja 🇹🇷🇵🇱 📸 bryg. G. Borowiec, mł. bryg. J. Filip, mł. bryg. Tomasz Stankowski, asp. M. Szalc.

— Karol Kierzkowski (@Kierzkowski_PSP) February 10, 2023

The 76-strong team arrived in Turkey as one of the first international groups, on Tuesday morning, to help in rescue and relief operations.

Polish firefighters will remain in Turkey until February 16, as there is still a chance of rescuing earthquake survivors, the head of the Polish fire service said on Friday.

Relief efforts in Syria complicated due to civil war

In the rebel enclave of northwest Syria that suffered the country’s worst damage from the earthquake, relief efforts are complicated by the more than decade-old civil war. Very little aid had entered despite a pledge from Damascus to improve access.

🚨Syria: Before the devastating earthquakes this week, there were more than 6.8 million people already internally displaced in country.

”They have been hit the hardest,” UNHCR’s Representative to the country, Sivanka Dhanapala, said from Damascus.

— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) February 11, 2023

In Antakya, body bags lay on city streets and residents were wearing masks to try to cover the smell of death. Ordinary people had joined the rescue effort, working without official coordination, one person who declined to give his name told Reuters.

“There is chaos, rubble, and bodies everywhere,” he said. His group had worked overnight trying to reach a university teacher calling to them from the rubble. But by morning she had stopped responding to them, he said.

More than 1,000,000 affected by the earthquake

About 80,000 people were being treated in hospital, while 1.05 million left homeless by the quakes were in temporary shelters, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told reporters overnight.

Among the living, survivors feared disease, with basic infrastructure smashed.

If people don’t die here under the rubble, they’ll die from injuries, if not they will die from infection. There is no toilet here. It is a big problem,” Gizem, a rescue worker from the southeastern province of Sanliurfa said.

Death toll could more than double, said U.N. aid chief

In an interview with Sky News, U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths, who described the earthquake as “the worst event in 100 years in this region”, praised Turkey’s emergency response, saying it was his experience that people in disaster zones were always disappointed early in relief efforts.

However, despite rescue operations, Griffiths said that “it is difficult to estimate precisely (the death toll) as we need to get under the rubble but I’m sure it will double or more.”

More than 25,000 people are known to have died in the disaster – but the UN's emergency relief co-ordinator, Martin Griffiths, tells Sky's Kay Burley he expects the death toll to more than double

Read more here:

— Sky News (@SkyNews) February 11, 2023

“We haven’t really begun to count the number of dead,” he added.

Investigation into irregularities in building construction

Questions are also starting to be asked about the soundness of buildings in the quake-hit zone.

State prosecutors in Kahramanmaras said they will investigate the collapse of buildings and any irregularities in their construction. Police detained a contractor who built a 12-story upmarket apartment block that collapsed in Hatay, as he waited to board a plane in Istanbul.

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