Rescuers pulled a seven-month-old baby and a teenage girl from the rubble in Hatay, Turkey, nearly a week after earthquakes devastated the country as well as neighboring Syria and killed more than 29,000 people.
The death toll in Turkey rose to 24,617 on Sunday, while more than 4,500 were killed in Syria. According to Syrian government-controlled media, at least 1,408 people were killed and 2,341 injured – while the White Helmets reported 3,100 dead and 5,070 injured in opposition-held areas, the aid group told Al Jazeera.
United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths said he expected the death toll to at least double after arriving in southern Turkey on Saturday to assess the damage.
Tens of thousands of rescuers are searching the flattened settlements despite the cold weather deepening the plight of millions who are now in desperate need of help.
“The air is full of smoke and dust. There are no toilets. People are still buried under the rubble and sleeping outside in the open … there are a few tents here in Antakya … but still not enough,” said Bernard Smith, an Al Jazeera journalist reporting from Antakya, Turkey.
The UN has warned that at least 870,000 people are in urgent need of hot meals across Turkey and Syria.
In Syria alone, up to 5.3 million people have been left homeless, the UN estimates.
Tens of millions affected
Nearly 26 million people have been affected by the earthquake and dozens of hospitals have been damaged in both countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday after issuing an urgent appeal for $42.8 million to address urgent, high-risk health needs.
Turkey’s disaster agency said more than 32,000 people from Turkish organizations were working on search and rescue efforts. There are also 8,294 international rescuers.
There were also several reports of gunfire at various locations, prompting Austrian soldiers and German rescuers to suspend their search for several hours on Saturday in Hatay, citing tight security amid gunfire between local groups.
On Friday, the UN Office for Human Rights published on Twitter High Commissioner Volker Turk’s call “for an immediate ceasefire in Syria and full respect #human rights & obligations under humanitarian law so that aid can reach everyone”.
Meanwhile, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Ankara and its Western allies consider a “terrorist” group, announced a temporary cessation of fighting to facilitate reconstruction work.
On Saturday, the border crossing between Armenia and Turkey was opened for the first time in 35 years to allow five trucks carrying food and water to the earthquake-hit region.
Medical aid for Aleppo
Aid has been slow to arrive in northwestern Syria, where years of conflict have devastated the health system as government forces target parts of the country still under rebel control.
Damascus said it had approved the delivery of humanitarian aid to quake-hit areas outside its control in Idlib province and that the convoy was expected to leave on Sunday. The delivery was later delayed without explanation.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus flew a load of emergency medical equipment to the government-held Syrian city of Aleppo, which has been hit hard by earthquakes, on Saturday.
Tedros visited the damaged areas of the city and met two children who lost their parents in the earthquake.
“There are no words to describe the pain they are going through,” he tweeted.
The Ministry of Transport said 57 planes carrying humanitarian aid had landed in Syria this week.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s Syria envoy urged Damascus not to politicize humanitarian aid issues, rejecting accusations that the bloc has failed to provide enough aid to Syrians after Monday’s 7.8 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes and their major aftershocks.
“It is absolutely unfair to be accused of not providing aid when in fact we have been doing exactly that continuously for more than a decade and doing much more even during the crisis caused by the earthquake,” Dan Stoenescu told the Reuters news agency.
Western countries have largely avoided President Bashar al-Assad during the Syrian civil war that began in 2011.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the Security Council to approve the opening of new cross-border aid posts between Turkey and Syria. The council will meet to discuss Syria, probably in the coming days.
Turkey said it was working to open two new routes into rebel-held parts of Syria.