Rescuers rushed to evacuate survivors from an earthquake as the death toll topped 9,000 in southern Turkey and fighting in northern Syria on Wednesday.
Officials and medics say 6,957 people have died in Turkey and 2,530 in Syria, bringing the total to 9,487. But that could increase even more if the biggest fears of experts are realized.
Hopes of rescuing more people from the ruins are now fading, as time passes since Monday’s pre-dawn 7.8 magnitude earthquake, Turkey’s biggest since 1939, killed nearly 33,000 people in the eastern province of Erzincan.
Since then, the region has been hit by more than 100 earthquakes, including a second 7.6-magnitude earthquake.
Heartbreaking images of a baby being pulled alive from the rubble and a broken father holding the hand of his dead daughter have shown the death toll from the natural disaster.
About two days after a building collapsed in Kahramanmaras, a nearby Turkish city, rescuers pulled a three-year-old boy from under the rubble.
The boy’s father, Ertugrul Kisi, who was also rescued earlier, cried as his son was taken out and loaded into an ambulance.
A few hours later, rescuers pulled a 10-year-old girl from the ruins of her home in the city of Adiyaman. Amidst the applause of the spectators, his grandfather kissed him and spoke softly to him as he was loaded into the ambulance.
In the town of Jindires in northwestern Syria, people found a crying baby still attached by the umbilical cord to his dead mother. The child is said to be the only survivor of his family.
At least 1,020 people have died in the northwest, and more than 2,300 have been injured, according to the first volunteers known as the White Helmets.
The rescue group, also known as the Syrian Civil Defense, said on Twitter that the number of casualties was expected to “rise significantly due to the presence of hundreds of families under the rubble, more than 50 hours after the earthquake”.
Time is running out
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned that time is running out for the thousands of people who are injured and who fear being trapped.
Search teams from more than 20 countries contacted more than 24,000 Turkish emergency officials and pledged help.
But among those whose relatives were still in the ruins, help has come too late.
“I can’t bring my brother back from the ruins. I can’t give my nephew back. Take a look around here. There is no official here, for God’s sake,” Ali Sagiroglu, a resident of Kahramanmaras, told AFP.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 13 million of the country’s 85 million people were affected and declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces.
Erdogan is expected to visit some of the affected areas on Wednesday.
In Syria, where the conflict that began in 2011 continues, frustration is growing among those still waiting for aid.
Aid operations have been hampered by the ongoing war and the isolation of the rebel-held region on the border, which is surrounded by Russian government forces.
Damage to roads and infrastructure in southern Turkey has prevented aid from reaching northern Syria through the only route known as Bab al-Hawa.
Syria itself is under Western sanctions related to the war. Bashar al-Assad’s government and its Russian allies have taken some time to restart their pressure on the north to bypass Damascus.
Countries opposed to al-Assad do not believe that the Syrian government will provide aid to the opposition and are worried that it will be diverted to benefit the people and organizations that are aligned with the government.
At a press conference on Tuesday in Damascus, the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, Khaled Hboubati, said his group is “ready to provide assistance to all areas of Syria, including areas not under government control”.
He asked the European Union to lift sanctions on Syria because of the emergency.
He was stuck in the cold
Even for the survivors, the future looks bleak. Many have taken refuge from the constant earthquakes, freezing rain and snow in mosques, schools and even bus shelters, burning rubbish to survive.
In Gaziantep, the site of violent earthquakes, shops are closed, there is no heat because gas lines have been cut to prevent explosions and access to fuel is difficult.
Only the bakers are open, drawing long lines.
Some of the worst damage in the popular province of Gaziantep occurred in outlying districts, where hundreds of buildings collapsed.
With the airport and many roads outside the city closed, attempts to escape the city have been hampered.
Many survivors, who ran outside without even wearing shoes when the earthquake struck, feel left behind as they battle the cold weather again.