Rescuers continued to pull some survivors from the rubble on Saturday, five days after tremors in the first quake struck Syria and Turkey, but hopes were fading that many more would be found.
Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake is the most devastating in Turkey since 1939, and the death toll continues to rise. The death toll topped 21,000 in Turkey by 20:00 GMT, with more than 3,500 confirmed dead in Syria, bringing the total to over 25,000.
Reporting from Antakya, Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith said that despite the massive level of destruction in the Turkish provincial capital of Hatay, there was still a glimmer of hope.
“We are now in the 135th hour since the earthquake, but there is still some hope. In the 132nd hour, a small child was saved, and a couple of hours before that, a man and a woman were saved alive. The search for survivors has not stopped,” said Smith.
He added that the government plans to reopen the city’s airport within 24 hours.
“The airport runway was badly damaged. They said they were preparing to restore the asphalt. This will be essential for relief flights. The need for help is desperate,” Smith said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, faced with questions about planning for the earthquake and the timing of the response, said authorities should have reacted more quickly.
Volunteers in Antakya said the looting made their daunting task even more difficult.
Erdogan said he would take tough measures against looters.
“We have declared a state of emergency,” he said during a visit to the disaster zone. “This means that from now on, people involved in robbery or kidnapping should know that the firm hand of the state is on their back,” he said.
One resident said he witnessed looting in the first days after Monday’s earthquake before leaving the city for a village.
“People were breaking windows and fences of shops and cars,” said Mehmet Bok, 26, who has now returned to Antakya and is looking for a co-worker in the collapsed building.
Turkish authorities arrested 48 robbers, state media reported. The suspects were held in eight different provinces as part of the robbery investigation.
Some rescue organizations also said that clashes between people had led to the suspension of their work.
On Saturday, two German rescue and aid groups suspended operations, citing security concerns amid reports of gunfire. The Austrian team also briefly suspended work before resuming.
Millions homeless: UN
In Syria, the United Nations said up to 5.3 million people could be homeless after the earthquake, while nearly 900,000 people urgently need hot food in Turkey and Syria.
In the rebel-held enclave in northwest Syria, which suffered the country’s worst earthquake damage but where relief efforts have been complicated by civil war, very little aid has entered despite Damascus’ pledge to improve access.
Turkey also said it was working to open two new routes into rebel-held parts of Syria.
In Turkey, about 80,000 people are being treated in hospitals and 1.05 million others left homeless by the earthquake are in temporary shelters, Turkey said.
Among those receiving treatment were 16 infants who were transferred by Turkish authorities from the epicenter of the earthquake, Kahramanmaras, to the capital, Ankara.
“They have all been identified, but the authorities have not been able to reach their families,” Al Jazeera reporter Sinem Koseoglu reported from Ankara.
“While these babies are fighting for their lives in intensive care, authorities are searching for their families,” she said.
Premature babies will stay in the intensive care unit until they get stronger. The rest will be attended by foster mothers appointed by the Government.
“The babies are in good condition,” said Ferit Kulal, chief doctor at the hospital where the babies were taken. “One of the babies was born at 28 weeks and the other at 33. After the examinations are completed, we will plan their discharge,” he said.