Death toll from Turkey-Syria earthquake continues to rise with rescue efforts yet to reach all survivors

On Thursday, the death toll from this week’s earthquakes in Turkey and Syria approached 16,000, as expectations waned that many survivors would be discovered 72 hours after the calamity and irritation grew over the sluggish delivery of supplies.

A Turkish official stated that the accident created “very substantial challenges” to holding elections on May 14, in which President Tayyip Erdogan was anticipated to face his most formidable opponent in his two decades in office.

On the ground, many people in Turkey and Syria spent a third night sleeping outside or in automobiles in frigid winter conditions, their homes wrecked or rattled by the quakes so violently that they were scared to return.

The quake, which occurred in the middle of the night and was followed by intense aftershocks, is expected to be Turkey’s worst since 1999 when a similarly violent tremor claimed the lives of more than 17,000.

In Turkey, images emerged late Wednesday night of a few more survivors being rescued, including Abdulalim Muaini, who was dragged from his fallen home in Hatay, Turkey, where he had been since Monday, next to his murdered wife.

Meral Nakir, a 60-year-old lady, was extricated from the wreckage of an apartment building in the city of Malatya on Thursday, 77 hours after the initial earthquake occurred, according to live coverage by the Turkish official broadcaster TRT.

By Thursday morning, the death toll in Turkey had reached 12,873. According to the government and a rescue organization in the rebel-held northwest, more than 3,000 people have perished in Syria, which has been ravaged by civil war for over twelve years.

“The death toll and injured is expected to rise much higher with many families still under collapsed buildings,” said Raed Saleh, head of the rescue service in the northwest, told Reuters on Thursday morning.

“No assistance has come yet and we are waiting today to see if any is coming,” he said.

U.N. aid into northwest Syria, a vital lifeline for 4 million people, is expected to begin flowing again on Thursday after the route was severed by the quake, aid officials said.

In Turkey, many have complained of a lack of equipment, expertise, and support to rescue those trapped – sometimes even as they could hear cries for help.

Further slowing the relief effort, the main road into the Turkish city of Antakya was clogged with traffic as residents who had finally managed to find scarce gasoline sought to leave the disaster zone, and aid trucks headed into the area.

After facing criticism over the response, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on a visit to the disaster zone on Wednesday that operations were now working normally and promised no one would be left homeless.

One official told Reuters that it was now too early to discuss elections given 15% of Turks lived in the affected area. “At the moment there are very serious difficulties in holding an election on May 14,” as had been planned, he said.

Across a swathe of southern Turkey, people have sought temporary shelter and food in freezing winter weather, and waited in anguish by piles of rubble where family and friends might still lie buried.

“Where is the state? Where have they been for two days? We are begging them. Let us do it, we can get them out,” Sabiha Alinak said near a snow-covered collapsed building in the city of Malatya where her young relatives were trapped.

23 million people affected in Syria and Turkey

In Syria, relief efforts are complicated by the conflict that has partitioned the nation and wrecked its infrastructure.

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations confessed the government lacked “capabilities and equipment,” attributing it to the country’s civil conflict and Western sanctions.

In the northwestern governorates of Hama, Latakia, Idlib, Aleppo, and Tartus, 10.9 million people have been touched by the crisis, according to El-Mostafa Benlamlih, the chief U.N. relief official in Syria.

From Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east, approximately 450 kilometers (280 miles), 13.5 million people were impacted, according to Turkish officials. People were killed in Syria as far south as Hama, 250 kilometers from the epicenter.

Erdogan, who imposed a state of emergency in ten provinces and dispatched troops to assist, visited Kahramanmaras on Wednesday, where he stated that “we are better today” despite initial challenges with roads and airports.

Nonetheless, the calamity will provide an extra obstacle for the incumbent president in the next election.

Any notion that the administration is inadequately responding to the crisis might harm his prospects. In contrast, observers assert that he may galvanize national support around the reaction to the crisis and bolster his position.

The internet watchdog Netblocks said that Twitter was briefly limited in Turkey on Wednesday, just as the people had come to “rely on the service” in the aftermath of the accident.

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