Rescuers raced on Feb. 7 to rescue survivors from the rubble of thousands of buildings brought down by a 7.7 magnitude earthquake and multiple aftershocks that struck eastern Türkiye and neighboring Syria, killing more than 3381 and wounding over 20,000 in Türkiye.
Countries around the world dispatched teams to assist in the rescue efforts, but a day after the earthquake struck the number of emergency crews on the ground remained few, with their efforts impeded by frigid temperatures and close to 200 aftershocks, which made the search through unstable structures perilous.
Nurgül Atay told The Associated Press she could hear her mother’s voice beneath the rubble of a collapsed building in the city of Antakya, the capital of Hatay province, but that her and others efforts to get into the ruins had been futile without any rescue crews and heavy equipment to help.
“If only we could lift the concrete slab we’d be able to reach her,” she said. “My mother is 70-years-old, she won’t be able to withstand this for long.”
Across Hatay province, just southwest of the earthquake’s epicenter, officials say as many as 1,500 buildings were destroyed and many people reported relatives being trapped under the rubble with no aid or rescue teams arriving.
In areas where teams worked, occasional cheers broke out through the night as survivors were brought out of the rubble.
The quake, which was centered in Türkiye’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaraş, sent residents of Damascus and Beirut rushing into the street and was felt as far away as Cairo.
In Hatay province, thousands of people sheltered in sports centers or fair halls, while others spent the night outside, huddled in blankets around fires. A navy ship docked on Tuesday at the province’s port of Iskenderun, where a hospital collapsed, to transport survivors in need of medical care to the nearby city of Mersin.
In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, a provincial capital about 33 kilometers (20 miles) from the epicenter, people took refuge in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centers.
The death toll in government-held areas of Syria climbed to 656 people, with some 1,400 injured, according to the Health Ministry. In the country’s rebel-held northwest, groups that operate there said at least 450 people died, with many hundreds injured.
Authorities fear the death toll will keep climbing as the rescuers look for survivors among tangles of metal and concrete spread across the region beset by Syria’s 12-year civil war and refugee crisis.
In the latest pledges of international help, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said he was preparing to swiftly dispatch a 60-person search and rescue team as well as medical supplies. Pakistan’s government sent a flight carrying relief supplies and a 50-member search and rescue team early Tuesday, and said there will be daily aid flights to Syria and Türkiye from Wednesday. India said it would send two search and rescue teams, including specially trained dogs and medical personnel.
U.S. President Joe Biden called President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to express condolences and offer assistance to the NATO ally. The White House said it was sending search-and-rescue teams to support Türkiye’s efforts.
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 Türkiye in 1999.