Children pulled from the rubble days after the earthquake, and the death toll exceeds 21,000 Reuters


© Reuters. Survivors rest as a woman reacts at a hospital after an earthquake, in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, February 10, 2023. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem


Mehmet Caliskan, Maya Gebeily and Khalil Ashawi

ANTAKYA, Turkey/JANDARIS, Syria, (Reuters) – Rescue teams pulled a 10-day-old boy and his mother from the rubble of a collapsed building in Turkey on Friday and dug out several people elsewhere four days after a powerful earthquake caused death and destruction in southern Turkey and northwestern Syria.

The confirmed death toll from the region’s deadliest earthquake in two decades stood at 21,000 in both countries on Friday.

Hundreds of thousands more were left homeless and without food in the bleak winter conditions, desperately seeking multinational aid to alleviate their suffering.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited the affected areas for the first time since the earthquake, visiting a hospital in Aleppo, state media reported. But the World Food Program said supplies were running out in rebel-held northwest Syria.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is also expected to tour his country’s disaster zone on Friday amid criticism from survivors and political opponents that his government’s response to the disaster was slow and poorly organized – accusations he rejects as he runs for re-election in May. Those elections may now be postponed due to the disaster.

In the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, near the quake’s epicenter, Friday prayers echoed through the devastated area, mingling with the noise of ventilators and generators powering rescue operations.

Rescuers, including teams from dozens of countries, struggled through the night in the rubble of thousands of collapsed buildings. In the low temperatures, they regularly called for silence as they listened for the sound of life from the disfigured concrete mounds.

In the Samandag district of Turkey’s Hatay province on Friday, rescuers crouched under concrete slabs and whispered “inshallah” (God willing), carefully reached into the rubble and pulled out a 10-day-old newborn.

With his eyes wide open, baby Yagiz Ulas was wrapped in a thermal blanket and taken to a field hospital. The emergency workers also took his mother away, dazed and pale, but conscious on a stretcher, the video showed.

In Diyarbakir in the east, Sebahat Varli, 32, and her son Serhat were rescued and taken to hospital on Friday morning, 100 hours after the quake.

Across the border in Syria, rescuers from the White Helmets dug through plaster and cement with their hands until they reached the bare feet of a young girl, still wearing pink pajamas, dirty but alive and free.

But hopes were fading that many more would be found alive.

In the Syrian town of Jandaris, Naser al-Wakaa sobbed as he sat on the pile of rubble and twisted metal that was his family’s home, burying his face in the baby clothes that belonged to one of his children.

“Bilal, oh Bilal,” he sobbed, calling out the name of one of his dead children.

The death toll from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake and several strong aftershocks in both countries exceeded the more than 17,000 deaths in 1999, when an earthquake of similar magnitude struck northwestern Turkey.

It now ranks as the seventh deadliest natural disaster this century, ahead of the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami and approaching the 31,000 death toll of the 2003 earthquake in neighboring Iran.

The death toll in Turkey rose to 18,342 by Friday morning, with 74,242 injured, disaster management body AFAD said.

More than 3,300 people have died in Syria, although rescuers said many more were trapped under the rubble.

About 24.4 million people in Syria and Turkey have been affected, according to Turkish officials and the United Nations, in an area stretching roughly 450 km (280 miles) from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east. In Syria, people died as far south as Hama, 250 km from the epicenter.

Many people have set up shelters in supermarket parking lots, mosques, roadsides or amid the rubble. Survivors are often desperate for food, water and warmth, and working toilets are rare in hard-hit areas.


The disaster has cast doubt on whether Turkey’s May 14 election, in which Erdogan faces his toughest challenge in two decades in power, will go ahead as planned.

With anger simmering over delays in delivering aid and launching rescue efforts, it is likely to affect the vote if it goes ahead. Erdogan called for solidarity and condemned what he described as “negative campaigns for political interests”.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, criticized the government’s response.

“The earthquake was huge, but what was much bigger than the earthquake was the lack of coordination, lack of planning and incompetence,” Kilicdaroglu said in a video statement.


Relief efforts in Syria have been complicated by the country’s 11-year civil war. Syrians have expressed despair at the slow response, including in areas controlled by Assad, who is shunned by the West.

On Friday, 14 trucks with humanitarian aid crossed into northern Syria from Turkey, the International Organization for Migration said in Geneva. They carried electric heaters, tents, blankets and other things.

But the World Food Program (WFP) said supplies were running out in northwestern Syria, where 90% of the population depends on humanitarian aid. It called for the opening of more border crossings from Turkey.

Syria’s government, which is under Western sanctions, has appealed for UN aid, saying any aid must be coordinated with Damascus and delivered from Syria, not across the Turkish border.

Damascus considers the delivery of aid to rebel areas from Turkey a violation of its sovereignty.

The presidency shared pictures of Assad and his wife Asma visiting people in Aleppo who were injured in the earthquake.

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