GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Thinly-stretched rescue teams worked through the night into Wednesday, pulling more bodies from the rubble of thousands of buildings downed in Turkey and Syria by a catastrophic earthquake that killed more than 7,700, their grim task occasionally punctuated by the joy of finding someone still alive.
Nearly two days after the magnitude 7. 8 quake struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, rescuers pulled a three-year-old boy, Arif Kaan, from beneath the rubble of a collapsed apartment building in Kahramanmaras, a city not far from the epicenter.
With the boy’s lower body trapped under slabs of concrete and twisted rebar, emergency crews lay a blanket over his torso to protect him from below-freezing temperatures as they carefully cut the debris away from him, mindful of the possibility of triggering another collapse.
The boy’s father Ertugrul, who had himself been saved earlier, cried as his son was lifted from the concrete and loaded onto an ambulance. For now, Arif Kaan is the name of Hope in Kahramanmaras,” an Turkish TV reporter declared as the rescuers made their dramatic broadcast.
A few hours later, rescuers pulled 10-year-old Betul Edis from the rubble of her home in the city of Adiyaman. As she was being loaded onto an ambulance, her grandfather embraced her. But such stories were rarer than two days following Monday’s earthquake that struck a large area, causing thousands to be destroyed. The cold temperatures, continued aftershocks, and frigid temperatures made rescue operations more difficult.
Search teams from more than two dozen countries joined more than 24,000 Turkish emergency personnel, and aid pledges poured in.
But with devastation spread multiple several cities and towns — some isolated by Syria’s ongoing conflict — voices crying from within mounds of rubble fell silent, and despair grew from those still waiting for help.
In Syria, the shaking toppled thousands of buildings and heaped more misery on a region wracked by the country’s 12-year civil war and refugee crisis.
On Monday afternoon, found their mother’s newborn in her hometown of North Syria. The baby was the only member of her family to survive a building collapse in the small town of Jinderis, relatives told The Associated Press.
Turkey is home to millions of refugees from the war. The affected area in Syria is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, where millions rely on humanitarian aid.
As many as 23 million people could be affected in the quake-hit region, according to Adelheid Marschang, a senior emergencies officer with the World Health Organization, who called it a “crisis on top of multiple crises.”
Many survivors in Turkey have had to sleep in cars, outside or in government shelters. We don’t own a tent or a stove to heat our homes, and we have no other means of getting warmth. Our children are in bad shape. We are all getting wet under the rain and our kids are out in the cold,” Aysan Kurt, 27, told the AP. “We did not die from hunger or the earthquake, but we will die freezing from the cold.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 13 million of the country’s 85 million people were affected, and he declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces. More than 8,000 people have been pulled from the debris in Turkey, and some 380,000 have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels, authorities said.
In Syria, aid efforts have been hampered by the ongoing war and the isolation of the rebel-held region along the border, which is surrounded by Russia-backed government forces. Syria itself is an international pariah under Western sanctions linked to the war.
The United Nations said it was “exploring all avenues” to get supplies to the rebel-held northwest.
Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktoy said at least 5,894 people have died from the earthquake in Turkey, with another 34,810 injured.
The death toll in government-held areas of Syria has climbed to 812, with some 1,400 injured, according to the Health Ministry. At least 1,020 people have died in the rebel-held northwest, according to volunteer first responders known as the White Helmets, with more than 2,300 injured.
The region sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 were killed in similarly powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkey in 1999.
Alsayed reported from Azmarin, Syria. Fraser was reporting from Ankara in Turkey. David Rising in Bangkok, and Robert Badendieck in Istanbul contributed to this story.
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