- Death toll 20,665 in Turkey, more than 3,500 in Syria
- Hundreds of thousands homeless in the middle of winter
- First U.N. aid convoy enters northwest Syria from Turkey
- Children pulled from rubble in Turkey
By Kemal Aslan, Maya Gebeily and Khalil Ashawi
ANTAKYA, Turkey/JANDARIS, Syria, Feb 11 (Reuters) – Rescuers in Turkey pulled two women alive from the rubble of collapsed buildings after they were been trapped for 122 hours following the region’s deadliest quake in two decades, authorities said on Saturday.
The death toll exceeded 24,150 across southern Turkey and northwest Syria a day after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said authorities should have reacted faster to Monday’s huge earthquake.
One of the rescued women, Menekse Tabak, 70, was swaddled in a blanket while rescuers carried her to a waiting ambulance in the province of Kahramanmaras, images from state news agency Anadolu showed.
The other was an injured 55-year-old, identified as Masallah Cicek, who was extricated from the debris of a collapsed building in Diyarbakir, the largest city in southeast Turkey, the agency said.
Sixty-seven people had been clawed from the rubble in the previous 24 hours, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told reporters overnight, in efforts that drew in 31,000 rescuers across the affected region.
About 80,000 people were being treated in hospital, while 1.05 million left homeless by the quakes huddled in temporary shelters, he added.
“Our main goal is to ensure that they return to a normal life by delivering permanent housing to them within one year, and that they heal their pain as soon as possible,” Oktay said.
With many left short of food in bleak winter conditions, questions are mounting for leaders of both countries over their response.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made his first reported trip to affected areas since the quake, visiting a hospital in Aleppo with his wife Asma, state media said.
His government approved deliveries of humanitarian aid across the front lines of the country’s 12-year civil war, a move that could speed help for millions of desperate people.
Earlier, the World Food Programme said it was running out of stocks in rebel-held northwest Syria as the state of war complicated relief efforts.
Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake, with several powerful aftershocks across Turkey and Syria, ranks as the seventh-deadliest natural disaster this century, exceeding Japan’s 2011 tremor and tsunami, and approaching the 31,000 killed by a quake in neighbouring Iran in 2003.
A similarly powerful earthquake in northwest Turkey in 1999 killed more than 17,000 killed in 1999.
On Friday, Erdogan visited Turkey’s province of Adiyaman, where he acknowledged the government’s response was not as fast as it could have been.
“Although we have the largest search and rescue team in the world right now, it is a reality that search efforts are not as fast as we wanted them to be,” he said.
Opponents have seized on the issue to attack Erdogan, who is standing for re-election in a vote set for May 14, though it may be postponed because of the disaster.
Simmering anger over the delays in aid delivery and in the launch of rescue efforts is likely to play into the election.
Even before the quake, the vote was being seen as Erdogan’s toughest challenge in two decades in power. He has called for solidarity and condemned what he called “negative campaigns for political interest”.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of Turkey’s main opposition party, criticised the government response.
“The earthquake was huge, but what was much bigger than the earthquake was the lack of coordination, lack of planning and incompetence,” he said in a statement.
Deaths in Turkey rose to 20,665 on Saturday, the disaster management agency said. In Syria, more than 3,500 have been killed. Many more remain under rubble.
HOPE AMID THE RUINS
Teams from dozens of countries were among the rescuers toiling night and day in the ruins of thousands of wrecked buildings to free buried survivors.
In freezing temperatures, they regularly called for silence as they strained to hear any sounds of life from mounds of mangled concrete.
In the Samandag district of Turkey, rescuers crouched under concrete slabs and whispered “Inshallah” – “God willing” – as they carefully reached into the rubble and plucked out a 10-day-old newborn.
His eyes wide open, the baby, Yagiz Ulas, was wrapped in a thermal blanket and carried to a field hospital. Emergency workers also took away his mother, dazed and pale but conscious on a stretcher, video images showed.