Ankara/ Damascus: The death toll from the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday has approached nearly 8000.At least 5,894 people have died in Turkey, while at least 2,032 have been killed in Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced a three-month state of emergency across 10 provinces, while aid agencies grapple with the complicated logistics of sending emergency assistance to war-hit Syria.
More than 12,000 Turkish search-and-rescue personnel are working in the affected areas, along with 9,000 troops. On the other hand more than 70 countries have offered rescue teams and other aid.
After a series of earthquakes and aftershocks in Turkey and Syria, many tried to flee the devastated city of Gaziantep, located about 33km (20 miles) from the epicentre.
With the airport and many roads outside the city blocked, those who were unable to leave took refuge in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centers.
The Syrian Red Crescent is calling on Western countries to lift sanctions on the country to facilitate relief efforts.
“Lift the economic sanctions imposed on Syria and the Syrian people,” said Khaled Hboubati, president of the Syrian Red Crescent.
“Open the way for us. We are ready to provide assistance. We are ready to provide aid through the crossline and to send aid convoys to Idlib,” he told reporters.
“I call on the United Nations, and the countries on the European Union and the USAID Program to support,” he added.
The Syrian government remains under heavy sanctions aimed at isolating the country economically in response to widely documented human rights violations since war started in 2011.
South Korea is dispatching 110 workers to assist in search and rescue efforts in quake-hit Turkey, according to the Yonhap news agency.
The team comprises 60 members of the Korea Disaster Relief team and 50 military personnel, the agency reported.
Seoul has already pledged $5m in emergency humanitarian assistance to Turkey.
South Korean rescue workers and search dogs prepare to leave for Turkey for a rescue operation at the Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea.
About 100 people wrapped in blankets slept in one lounge of the terminal normally used to welcome Turkish politicians and celebrities, an European news agency reported.
An earthquake rescue team dispatched by China’s government has arrived at Turkey’s Adana Airport.
The team, comprising 82 members, brought 20 tonnes of medical and other rescue supplies and equipment, as well as four search-and-rescue dogs, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
Separately, civil society rescue teams with at least 52 members from several provinces in China, including Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Guangdong, are heading to the earthquake-stricken areas in Turkey to carry out rescue work, CCTV reported.
In hard-hit Gaziantep, where many people remain trapped under rubble, residents said no rescue team arrived in the city in the first 12 hours after the disaster. When the rescuers finally came on Monday evening, they only worked for a few hours before breaking for the night, residents told the western news agaecny.
The Syrian Civil Defence group says the death toll from Monday’s earthquakes in rebel-held parts of Syria has risen to 1,220.
At least 2,600 people have also been injured, said the opposition group, whose members are also known as the White Helmets.
“The number is expected to rise significantly as hundreds of families remain trapped under the rubble,” it added.
The United States says it is working with partners to provide earthquake relief to Syria but will stand firm against working with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Stephen Allen, who is leading the response on the ground for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), said most of the damage is in areas under rebel control and that USAID has local partners there. He said his agency is reorienting assistance that was already in place to help war-hit Syrians, and focusing on rescue efforts and other immediate needs including providing shelter and food.
“We’ve got the full gamut of humanitarian response going in northwest Syria right now,” Allen told reporters.
He declined to name the non-governmental groups working with the US, citing operational security.
Washington has refused to normalise relations with Assad’s government or to provide any direct reconstruction aid, seeking accountability for abuses during the brutal nearly 12-year civil war. The Syrian government has insisted that international aid — even to rebel-held areas — be routed through its agencies.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has sent surgical material, enough to treat 100 people, to a public hospital in Aleppo, Syria.
“More of that and medical equipment is on its way to Aleppo, Latakia and Tartous, along with thousands of canned foods enough for tens of thousands of people, blankets and mattresses, and other essential items,” the ICRC said in a statement.
An Arab news channel reporter Resul Serdar, reporting from the hard-hit city of Kahramanmaras in Turkey, said rescuers were working through the night in the frigid cold to pull survivors out of the rubble of collapsed homes.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly sent his condolences about Monday’s quake to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“I am sure that under your leadership, the Syrian government and the people will overcome damage from the quake as quickly as possible and the lives of affected people will be stabilised,” the Yonhap news agency reported, citing North Korea’s state-run radio network, Korean Central Broadcasting Station.
Yonhap, a South Korean news agency, said there were no reports in state media of condolences being sent to Turkey.
The United Nations says it is “exploring all avenues” to get supplies to rebel-held northwestern Syria and has released $25m from its emergency fund to help kick-start the humanitarian response in Turkey and Syria.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the the global body is preparing a convoy to cross conflict lines within Syria, as Monday’s earthquakes have damaged the road leading to the main border crossing from Turkey to northern Syria.
Bab al-Hawa is the only crossing through which UN aid is allowed into the rebel-held northwest. But sending a convoy through Syria would likely require a new agreement with President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which has laid siege to rebel-held areas throughout the civil war.
In Turkey, Dujarric said, Syrian refugees make up more than 1.7 million of the 15 million people inhabiting the 10 provinces affected by the earthquake.
Rescuers are racing against time to pull survivors from the rubble before they succumb to cold weather, two days after earthquakes tore through southern Turkey and war-ravaged northern Syria.
More than 8,000 people have been pulled from the debris in Turkey, while some 380,000 have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels, authorities said. But authorities faced criticism from residents of Turkey’s Hatay province, sandwiched between Syria and the Mediterranean Sea, who say rescue efforts have lagged.
“It’s like we woke up to hell,” said Osman Can Taninmis, whose family members were still beneath the rubble in Hatay. “We can’t respond to absolutely anything. Help isn’t coming, can’t come. We can’t reach anyone at all. Everywhere is destroyed.”
Nurgul Atay told a western news agency that she could hear her mother’s voice beneath the rubble of a collapsed building in the Turkish city of Antakya, the capital of Hatay. But rescuers did not have the heavy equipment needed to rescue her.
“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.”
Health minister Fahrettin Koca said 1,647 people were killed in Hatay alone, the highest toll of any Turkish province. A total of 5,894 people have died in Turkey.
Koca said at least 1,846 people had been rescued in Hatay as of Tuesday evening.
Hatay’s airport was closed after the quake destroyed the runway, complicating rescue efforts.
The Syrian state news agency SANA said at least 812 people were killed and 1,449 people injured in the government-held provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama, Idlib and Tartous.
At least 1,120 people were killed in Syria’s opposition-held northwest and 2,500 injured, with the toll expected to “rise dramatically,” rescuers in the regi