By Australian Associated Press and published by Yahoo!News
Antakya, Turkey – The death toll of a devastating earthquake in southern Turkey and Syria has jumped to more than 7,800 people as rescuers work against time in harsh winter conditions to dig survivors out of the rubble of collapsed buildings.
As the scale of the disaster became ever more apparent, the death toll looked likely to rise considerably.
One United Nations official said thousands of children might have died.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces but residents in several damaged Turkish cities voiced anger and despair at what they said was a slow and inadequate response from the authorities to the deadliest earthquake to hit Turkey since 1999.
Monday’s magnitude 7.8 quake, followed hours later by a second one almost as powerful, toppled thousands of buildings including hospitals, schools and apartment blocks, injured tens of thousands and left countless people homeless in Turkey and northern Syria.
Rescue workers struggled to reach some of the worst-hit areas, held back by destroyed roads, poor weather and a lack of resources and heavy equipment.
Some areas were without fuel and electricity.
With little immediate help at hand, residents picked through rubble sometimes without even basic tools in a desperate hunt for survivors.
Aid officials voiced particular concern about the situation in Syria, already afflicted by a humanitarian crisis after almost 12 years of civil war.
Erdogan declared 10 Turkish provinces a disaster zone and imposed a state of emergency for three months that will permit the government to bypass parliament in enacting new laws and to limit or suspend rights and freedoms.
The government will open up hotels in the tourism hub of Antalya to temporarily house people impacted by the quakes, said Erdogan, who faces a national election in three months’ time.
The death toll in Turkey rose to 5,894, Vice President Fuat Oktay said, with more than 34,000 were injured.
In Syria, the toll was at least 1,932, according to the government and a rescue service in the insurgent-held northwest.
Turkish authorities say some 13.5 million people were affected in an area spanning roughly 450km from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east, and 300km from Malatya in the north to Hatay in the south.
Syrian authorities have reported deaths as far south as Hama, some 250km from the epicentre.
“It’s now a race against time,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.
“Every minute, every hour that passes, the chances of finding survivors alive diminishes.”
Across the region, rescuers toiled night and day as people waited in anguish by mounds of rubble clinging to the hope that friends, relatives and neighbours might be found alive
In Antakya, capital of Hatay province bordering Syria, rescue teams were thin on the ground and residents picked through debris themselves. People pleaded for helmets, hammers, iron rods and rope.
More than 12,000 Turkish search and rescue personnel are working in the affected areas, along with 9,000 troops. More than 70 countries offered rescue teams and other aid.
But the sheer scale of the disaster is daunting.
Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority said 5,775 buildings had been destroyed in the quake and 20,426 people had been injured.
Two United States Agency for International Development teams with 80 people each and 12 dogs are set to arrive on Wednesday morning in Turkey and head to the southeastern province of Adiyaman to focus on urban search and rescue.
UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told reporters in Geneva the earthquake “may have killed thousands of children”.
Syrian refugees in northwest Syria and in Turkey were among the most vulnerable people affected, Elder said.
In the Syrian city of Hama, mosques opened their doors to families whose homes were damaged.
The Syrian state news agency SANA said at least 812 people were killed in the government-held provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama, Idlib and Tartous.
At least 1,120 people were killed in Syria’s opposition-held northwest with the toll expected to “rise dramatically”, the White Helmets rescue team said.
Top: An earthquake survivor reacts as rescuers look for victims and other survivors in Hatay, a Turkish province where hundreds of buildings were reportedly destroyed by the previous day’s earthquake. Photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images and published by CBC
First insert: Survivors sit outside trying to stay warm next to a fire in Kahramanmaras. Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the quake’s epicentre, between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, a city of two million where entire blocks now lie in ruins under gathering snow. Photo: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images and published by CBC
Second insert: People stand next to a vehicle as they wait for food in Kahramanmaras, Turkey. Photo: Suhaib Salem/Reuters and published by CBC
Third insert: A woman holds her child while standing near rubble in Gaziantep, Turkey, on Tuesday. The temperature there is currently just around 2 C. Photo: Suhaib Salem/Reuters and published by CBC
Fourth insert: People sit near the damaged historical New Mosque following an earthquake in Malatya, Turkey. Photo: Reuters and published by CBC
Front Page: People warm up around a fire in Antakya, Hatay Province, Turkey. Photo: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters and published by CBC
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