- Death toll is over 17,000 in Turkey, more than 3,000 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
KIRIKHAN, Turkey, Feb 10 (Reuters) – Rescuers pulled a woman alive out of the rubble of a collapsed building in Turkey on Friday, prompting cheers from onlookers 104 hours after she was buried by the huge earthquake that wrought death and destruction across the region.
“Now I believe in miracles,” rescue team leader Steven Bayer, said after crews carefully lifted 40-year-old Zeynep Kahraman on a stretcher past shattered blocks of concrete and twisted metal into an ambulance in the town of Kirikhan.
“You can see the people crying and hugging each other. It’s such a huge relief that this woman under such conditions came out so fit. It’s an absolute miracle,” he said.
Kahraman lay still, strapped into the stretcher with her arms across her chest, her eyes shielded from the sudden light by dark glasses. Her younger sister Zuebeyde looked on and hugged a worker from the German International Search and Rescue (ISAR) team.
“The woman pulled through. She didn’t give up,” rescue dog handler Tamara Reither said as crowds applauded.
“We are all so grateful that she is lying in this ambulance now. I have no words.”
Kahraman’s family told Reuters this week they had waited two days for rescuers to arrive after Monday’s quake.
The German workers made contact with Zeynep while she was still deep inside the rubble and kept her hydrated through a hose. At one point they helped Zuebeyde climb down a ladder close to her sister’s position to speak to her.
The combined death toll stood at 21,000 in southern Turkey and northwest Syria on Friday morning, on the fifth day after the deadliest quake in the region in decades .
Hundreds of thousands more people have been left homeless and short of food in bleak winter conditions, desperate for a multi-national relief effort to alleviate their suffering.
Cold, hunger and despair gripped hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by the tremors, the deadliest in the region for decades.
Several people were rescued from the rubble of buildings during the night, including a 10-year-old boy saved with his mother after 90 hours in the Samandag district of Hatay province.
Also in Hatay, a seven-year-old girl named Asya Donmez was rescued after 95 hours and taken to hospital, the state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.
But hopes were fading that many more would be found alive in the ruins of thousands of collapsed buildings in towns and cities across the region.
The death toll from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake and several powerful aftershocks across both countries has surpassed the more than 17,000 killed in 1999 when a similarly powerful earthquake hit northwest Turkey.
It now ranks as seventh most deadly natural disaster this century, ahead of Japan’s 2011 tremor and tsunami and approaching the 31,000 killed by a quake in neighbouring Iran in 2003.
A Turkish official said the disaster posed “very serious difficulties” for the holding of an election scheduled for May 14 in which President Tayyip Erdogan has been expected to face his toughest challenge in two decades in power.
With anger simmering over delays in the delivery of aid and getting the rescue effort underway, the disaster is likely to play into the vote if it goes ahead.
The first U.N. convoy carrying aid to stricken Syrians crossed over the border from Turkey.
In Syria’s Idlib province, Munira Mohammad, a mother of four who fled Aleppo after the quake, said: “It is all children here, and we need heating and supplies. Last night we couldn’t sleep because it was so cold. It is very bad.”
Hundreds of thousands of people in both countries have been left homeless in the middle of winter. Many people have set up crude shelters in supermarket car parks, mosques, roadsides or amid the ruins.
Survivors are often desperate for food, water and heat.
Some 40% of buildings in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, the epicentre of Monday’s main quake, are damaged, according to a report by Turkey’s Bogazici University.
At a petrol station near the Turkish town of Kemalpasa, people picked through cardboard boxes of donated clothes. In the port city of Iskenderun, Reuters journalists saw people huddled round fires on roadsides and in wrecked garages and warehouses.
Authorities say some 6,500 buildings in Turkey collapsed and countless more were damaged.
The death toll in Turkey rose to 17,674 by Thursday night, Vice President Fuat Oktay said. In Syria, already devastated by nearly 12 years of civil war, more than 3,300 people have died, according to the government and a rescue service in the rebel-held northwest.
In the devastated Syrian town of Jandaris, Ibrahim Khalil Menkaween walked in the rubble-strewn streets clutching a white body bag. He said he had lost seven members of his family, including his wife and two brothers.
“I’m holding this bag for when they bring out my brother, and my brother’s young son, and both of their wives,” he said. “The situation is very bad. And there is no aid.”
Turkish officials say some 13.5 million people were affected in an area spanning roughly 450 km (280 miles) from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east. In Syria, people were killed as far south as Hama, 250 km from the epicentre.
Rescue crews working in the dark and in freezing temperatures looked for survivors at a collapsed building in the city of Adiyaman, Turkish broadcasters showed.
Teams called for silence, asking all vehicles and generators to stop and reporters to keep quiet as they listened for any sound of life from the mangled concrete.
Many in Turkey have complained of a lack of equipment, expertise and support to rescue those trapped – sometimes even as they could hear cries for help.
Greece sent thousands of tents, beds and blankets and Israeli satellite intelligence was helping map the disaster zones in Turkey with technology predominantly used for special operations, the Israeli military said.
The World Bank is providing Turkey with $1.78 billion in relief and recovery financing, $780 million of which will become available immediately. The U.S. Agency for International Development will provide $85 million in urgent humanitarian assistance to Turkey and Syria.
In Syria, relief efforts are complicated by a conflict that has partitioned the country and wrecked its infrastructure.
The U.N. aid convoy entered Syria at the Bab Al Hawa crossing – a lifeline for accessing opposition-controlled areas where some 4 million people, many displaced by the war, were already relying on humanitarian aid.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pushed for more humanitarian access to Syria, saying he would be “very happy” if the United Nations could use more than one border crossing to deliver help.
The Syrian government views the delivery of aid to rebel-held areas from Turkey as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
President Bashar al-Assad has chaired emergency meetings on the earthquake but has not addressed the country in a speech or news conference.