Thousands left homeless by a massive earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria a week ago packed into crowded tents or lined up in the streets for hot meals
ADIYAMAN, Turkey — Thousands left homeless by a massive earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria a week ago packed into crowded tents or lined up in the streets for hot meals Monday, while the desperate search for anyone still alive likely entered its last hours.
A crew wrested a 4-year-old girl from rubble in hard-hit Adiyaman, 177 hours after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck. The rescuers were among thousands of local and overseas teams, including Turkish coal miners and experts aided by sniffer dogs and thermal cameras, who scoured pulverized apartment blocks for signs of life.
While stories of near-miraculous rescues have flooded the airwaves in recent days — many broadcast live on Turkish television and beamed around the world — tens of thousands of dead have been found during the same period. Experts say given the freezing temperatures — and the total collapse of so many buildings — the window for such rescues is nearly shut.
The quake and hundreds of aftershocks, some nearly as powerful as the first, struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria on Feb. 6, killing more than 35,000 and reducing whole swaths of towns and cities inhabited by millions to fragments of concrete and twisted metal.
Some 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the epicenter, almost no houses were left standing in the village of Polat, where residents salvaged refrigerators, washing machines and other goods from wrecked homes.
Not enough tents have arrived for the homeless, said survivor Zehra Kurukafa, forcing families to share the tents that are available.
“We sleep in the mud, all together with two, three, even four families,” said Kurukafa.
In the city of Adiyaman, 25-year-old Musa Bozkurt waited for a vehicle to bring him and others to the city of Afyon, in western Turkey.
“We’re going away, but we have no idea what will happen when we get there,” Bozkurt said. “We have no goal. Even if there was (a plan) what good will it be after this hour? I no longer have my father or my uncle. What do I have left?”
Fuat Ekinci, a 55-year-farmer, was reluctant to leave his home for Afyon despite the destruction, saying he didn’t have the means to live elsewhere and had fields that need to be tended.
“Those who have the means are leaving, but we’re poor,” he said. “The government says, go and live there a month or two. How do I leave my home? My fields are here, this is my home, how do I leave it behind?”
Volunteers from across Turkey have mobilized to help millions of survivors, including a group of volunteer chefs and restaurant owners who served traditional food such as beans and rice and lentil soup for survivors who lined up in the streets of downtown Adiyaman.
Other volunteers continued with the rescue efforts. After rescuers pulled out the 4-year-old, a relative told HaberTurk television that more loved ones were inside the building.
As the scale of the disaster comes into view, sorrow and disbelief have turned to rage over the sense there has been an ineffective response to the historic disaster. That anger could be a political problem for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces a tough reelection battle in May.
Meanwhile, on Monday, rescuer workers, including coal miners, found a woman alive in the wreckage of a five-story building in Gaziantep province.
But Eduardo Reinoso Angulo, a professor at the Institute of Engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the likelihood of finding people alive was “very, very small now.”
David Alexander, a professor of emergency planning and management at University College London, agreed. But he added that the odds were not very good to begin with.
Many of the buildings were so poorly constructed that they collapsed into very small pieces, leaving very few spaces large enough for people to survive in, Alexander said.
“If a frame building of some kind goes over, generally speaking we do find open spaces in a heap of rubble where we can tunnel in,“ Alexander said. “Looking at some of these photographs from Turkey and from Syria, there just aren’t the spaces.”
Wintery conditions further reduce the window for survival. Temperatures in the region have fallen to minus 6 degrees Celsius (21 degrees Fahrenheit) overnight. In such cold, the body shivers to keep warm — but that burns a lot of calories, meaning that people also deprived of food will die more quickly, said Dr. Stephanie Lareau, a professor of emergency medicine at Virginia Tech.
Many in Turkey blame faulty construction for the vast devastation, and authorities have begun targeting contractors allegedly linked with buildings that collapsed. Turkey has introduced construction codes that meet earthquake-engineering standards, but experts say the codes are rarely enforced.
At least 131 people were under investigation for their alleged responsibility in the construction of buildings that failed to withstand the quakes, officials said. On Monday, authorities in the quake-hit province of Malatya issued warrants for the detention of 31 more people while a construction supervisor and a technician were arrested in Kahramanmaras, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Turkey’s death toll from the quake has passed 31,000. Deaths in Syria, split between rebel-held areas and government-held areas, have risen beyond 3,500, although those reported by the government haven’t been updated in days.
Visiting the Turkish-Syrian border Sunday, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths said that the international community has failed to provide aid.
Griffiths said Syrians “rightly feel abandoned.” He added: “My duty and our obligation is to correct this failure as fast as we can.”
In the Syrian capital of Damascus on Monday, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, told reporters that the “troubles” regarding the flow of aid to Syria’s rebel-held northwest are “now being corrected.”
The Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria, meanwhile, said that 53 trucks carrying aid had crossed from Kurdish territory into earthquake-damaged areas controlled by rival Turkish-backed rebels in northwest Syria who had previously prevented convoys from crossing. Turkish authorities consider the Syrian Democratic Forces to be terrorist group, along with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Turkey-based Kurdish separatist group.