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Crews race to find survivors in Turkey and Syria as quake death toll now exceeds 6,000

Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

ISTANBUL — As temperatures dipped below freezing, rescue crews raced Tuesday to free those trapped under the thousands of buildings that collapsed in the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that rocked southern Turkey and northern Syria, even as the death toll rose past 6,000.

Rescue workers scrabbled frantically at mounds of rubble, alert for the cries of still-conscious survivors. Aftershocks, including a strong jolt of magnitude 5.7 on Tuesday, added to the difficulty and fear. Trained emergency personnel and heavy equipment were in short supply as affected areas waited for domestic and international aid to arrive, held up in some cases by harsh weather conditions that snarled airports.

The full scale of the devastation left by the massive temblor — one of the most powerful to hit the region in more than a century — still has yet to become clear. But on Tuesday evening, Turkey’s disaster management agency said that at least 4,500 people had died. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier that more than 22,000 others were injured, and he declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 provinces affected by the earthquake.

In Syria, which has been racked by a 12-year civil war, officials were quoted in state media as saying that 812 people had died since Monday in areas controlled by the government of President Bashar Assad. In opposition-held enclaves of northwest Syria, the White Helmets, a civil defense volunteer group, said the number of dead exceeded 790, adding that it was likely an underestimate.

The World Health Organization warned that a staggering 23 million people, 1.4 million of them children, could be exposed to the elements.

“It’s now a race against time,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general. “Every minute, every hour that passes, the chances of finding survivors alive diminishes.”


In Gaziantep, a provincial Turkish capital close to the quake’s epicenter, rescue crews searched through the rock-strewn remains of one of the city’s many leveled buildings, shouting for silence from onlookers. A crew member sat atop a concrete slab that had once been the building’s roof, pressing his ear to the masonry to pick up sounds of distress beneath the wreckage.

In the crowd, some people lifted their heads, others bowed them, as they strained to listen as one.

Minutes passed.



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