Rescuers rescued a 13-year-old boy from under a collapsed building a week after Turkey’s deadliest modern earthquake killed tens of thousands of people as chances of finding other survivors dwindled.
The teenager – who spent 182 hours under concrete in Hatay province – held a rescuer’s hand on Monday as he was placed on a stretcher, secured to his head and covered to keep warm before being transferred to an ambulance.
With hopes of finding more survivors among the rubble quickly fading, the death toll in Turkey and neighboring Syria from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake rose above 37,000 and looked set to continue rising.
In one town, rescuers dug a tunnel to reach a grandmother, mother and daughter from a family who appeared to have survived the February 6 earthquake and the 7.6 aftershock.
A young girl named Miray was found alive in the southeastern Turkish city of Adiyaman, and crews were reportedly close to her sister. State television TRT Haber reported that a ten-year-old girl was rescued in the province of Kahramanmaras.
At least two other children and three adults were also rescued.
But others were bracing for an inevitable reduction in search operations as freezing temperatures reduced the already slim chance of survival and as some Polish rescuers announced they would leave on Wednesday.
In the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo, United Nations humanitarian aid chief Martin Griffiths said the rescue phase was “coming to an end”.
“Now the humanitarian phase – the urgency of providing shelter, psycho-social care, food, education and a sense of future for these people – this is now our obligation,” he told reporters.
Three generations in a trap
Stories of near-miraculous rescues have flooded the airwaves in recent days, including many broadcast live on Turkish television and broadcast around the world. But tens of thousands of dead were found in the same period.
Experts say the time for such rescues is almost closed given the length of time that has passed, the fact that temperatures have dropped to minus 6 degrees Celsius (21 degrees Fahrenheit) and the severity of the building’s collapse.
Still, thousands of rescue teams – including Turkish miners and experts aided by sniffer dogs and thermal imaging cameras – scoured the crushed apartment blocks for signs of life.
In one dramatic rescue attempt in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, rescuers said they had contact with a grandmother, mother and baby trapped in a room in the remains of a three-story building. Rescuers dug a second tunnel to reach them after the first route was blocked.
“I have a strong feeling that we will get them,” said Burcu Baldauf, head of the Turkish Voluntary Health Team. “That is already a real miracle. After seven days there, they are without water, without food and are in good condition.”
In the same street, emergency workers covered the body with a black bag. “This is your brother,” said one grieving woman as another sobbed. “No no.”
The death toll in Turkey now surpasses the 31,643 killed in the 1939 earthquake, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency said, making it the worst earthquake in the country’s modern history.
The total death toll in Syria, a country ravaged by more than a decade of war, has reached 5,714, including those killed in rebel enclaves and government-held areas.
It is the sixth deadliest natural disaster this century behind the 2005 earthquake that killed at least 73,000 people in Pakistan.
The Turkish Entrepreneurship and Business Confederation, a non-governmental business organization, estimated the financial damage of the earthquake in Turkey alone at $84.1 billion.
Some 100 km (62 miles) from the epicenter, almost no houses were left standing in the Turkish village of Polat, where residents salvaged refrigerators, washing machines and other goods from destroyed homes.
Not enough tents for the homeless have arrived, survivor Zehra Kurukafa said, forcing families to share those available.
“We sleep in the mud, all together with two, three, even four families,” Kurukafa said.
Turkish authorities said on Monday that more than 150,000 survivors had been moved to shelters outside the affected provinces. In Adiyaman, Musa Bozkurt was waiting for the vehicle that would take him and the others to western Turkey.
“We are leaving, but we have no idea what will happen when we arrive,” said the 25-year-old. “We don’t have a goal. Even if there is [a plan], what will be good after this hour? I have neither father nor uncle anymore. What’s left for me?”
Call for help to Syria
The International Monetary Fund has called for an international effort to help Syria where the rebel-held northwest has received little aid.
Only one crossing from Turkey to Syria is now open for UN aid, although the United Nations says it hopes to open two more.
Frustration grew among aid workers and civilians in rebel-held areas of Syria.
“Since the early days of the disaster, we have called on the UN to intervene immediately,” said Salem al-Muslet, head of the Turkish-backed opposition coalition. “The UN wants to absolve itself of responsibility for the betrayal of the liberated areas.”