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Search teams race to find quake survivors as the death toll climbs past 15,000

A girl stands next to destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey on Wednesday.
Khalil Hamra
/
AP
A girl stands next to destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey on Wednesday.

Updated February 8, 2023 at 8:54 PM ET

ANTAKYA and ISTANBUL, Turkey — Rescue workers in Turkey and Syria spent a third day of desperate recovery operations on Wednesday as the death toll from this week's massive earthquake reached a grim milestone.

Teams of workers were still trying to find more survivors from the early Monday morning quake as the death toll surpassed 15,000, The Associated Press reported. By late Wednesday, Turkey's government reported 12,391 deaths in the country from the quake. In Syria, the death toll reached 2,902.

In a visit to Kahramanmaras, a city near the epicenter of the quake, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to survivors, saying "we are face to face with a great disaster." Erodgan admitted there were shortfalls by his government in the immediate aftermath of the quake, but said nobody would be "left in the streets." Erdogan will also travel to the worst-hit province of Hatay on Wednesday.

The magnitude 7.8 quake, which occurred in southern Turkey and collapsed buildings in that country and Syria, is the deadliest seismic event in the world in more than a decade, the AP reported. A 2011 earthquake in Japan triggered a tsunami that killed more than 19,000 people.

Turkey's government said search and rescue teams have pulled more than 8,000 people from underneath the rubble of thousands of toppled buildings in the past two days. But worries grew that survivors may succumb to their injuries or hypothermia, due to worsening weather conditions in the region.

Jordanians load a military plane with humanitarian aid for Syria following a deadly earthquake, at Marka military airport in Amman, Jordan, on Feb. 8, 2023.
KHALIL MAZRAAWI / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Jordanians load a military plane with humanitarian aid for Syria following a deadly earthquake, at Marka military airport in Amman, Jordan, on Feb. 8, 2023.

In the city of Antakya, resident Hamideh Mansulolu stood outside what used to be the seven-story residential building where she lived with her family, waiting to hear whether her son, Sedat, survived.

"I know my son is inside and I think he's still alive. His brother dug with his hands to find him," she told NPR. Hours later, as diggers chipped away at the ruins of the building, rescuers found Sedat's body and wrapped it in a blanket for his mother to say goodbye.

Aid groups consider the first 72 hours after a natural disaster as crucial for rescuing survivors. In neighboring Syria, the government has blamed Western sanctions for hampering relief efforts, but the U.S. says sanctions do not include humanitarian assistance. Regardless, northern Syria lacks the heavy equipment and other infrastructure to come to the aid of the hundreds of thousands displaced by this disaster, and the only U.N.-authorized road from Turkey to that region has been damaged by the quake.

Iran, Libya, and the United Arab Emirates have sent hundreds of millions of dollars worth of aid to Syria, and dozens of countries have sent aid to Turkey, including more than 5,000 rescue workers who are arriving in the disaster area.

Turkey's emergency management agency, AFAD, reports it has set up more than 70,000 tents for emergency shelter to the more than 380,000 people who have been temporarily displaced by this disaster.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.