Antakya/Kahramanmaras: Rescue efforts in earthquake-hit Turkey wind down on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the country's deadliest modern disaster struck, with many praying only for bodies to mourn.
More than 46,000 people have been killed after the quake struck Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6. The toll is expected to soar, with some 345,000 apartments in Turkey now known to have been destroyed, and many still missing.
In one of the last efforts to pull people out of the rubble, 12 days after the earthquake, emergency teams began clearing debris with their hands at a rescue site in Antakya on Saturday night.
Search dogs and thermal cameras had detected signs of life from two people, rescuers said, but just after midnight, eight hours into the operation, the teams called off the rescue.
Millions in need of aid
The World Health Organization estimates that some 26 million people across both Turkey and Syria need humanitarian aid.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to arrive on Sunday in Turkey to discuss how Washington can further assist Ankara as it grapples with the aftermath of its worst natural disaster in modern times.
In Syria, which has reported more than 5,800 deaths, the World Food Programme (WFP) said authorities in the northwest of the country were blocking access to the area.
"That is bottlenecking our operations. That has to get fixed straight away," WFP Director David Beasley told Reuters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
Twelve days after the quake hit, workers from Kyrgyzstan tried to save a Syrian family of five from the rubble of a building in Antakya city in southern Turkey.
Three people, including a child, were rescued alive. The mother and father survived but the child died later of dehydration, the rescue team said. One older sister and a twin did not make it.
"We heard shouts when we were digging today an hour ago.
When we find people who are alive we are always happy," Atay Osmanov, a member of the rescue team, told Reuters.
Ten ambulances waited on a nearby street that was blocked to traffic to allow the rescue work.
Workers asked for complete silence and for everybody to crouch or sit as the teams climbed further up to the top of the rubble of the building where the family was found to listen for any more sounds using an electronic detector.
As rescue efforts continued one worker yelled into the rubble: "Take a deep breath if you can hear my voice." The head of Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), Yunus Sezer, said the search and rescue efforts will largely be terminated on Sunday night.
The death toll in Turkey stands at 40,642 from the quake while neighbouring Syria has reported more than 5,800 deaths, a toll that has not changed for days.
Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, WFP Director David Beasley said the Syrian and Turkish governments had been cooperating very well, but that its operations were being hampered in northwestern Syria.
The agency last week said it was running out of stocks there and called for more border crossings to be opened from Turkey.
"The problems we are running into [are with] the cross-line operations into northwest Syria where the northwestern Syrian authorities are not giving us the access we need," said Beasley.
Thousands of Syrians who had sought refuge in Turkey from the civil war have returned to their homes in the war zone - at least for now.
Medics and experts voiced concerns over the possible spread of infection in the area where tens of thousands of buildings collapsed last week leaving sanitation infrastructure damaged.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Saturday that although there had been a rise in intestinal and upper respiratory infections, the numbers did not pose a serious threat to public health.
"Our priority now is to fight against the conditions that can threaten public health and to prevent infectious diseases," Koca told a news conference in southern Hatay province.
Aid organisations say the survivors will need help for months to come with so much crucial infrastructure destroyed.
Search and rescue teams amazingly found more survivors in the ruins of the Feb. 6 earthquake that devastated swaths of Turkey and Syria even as the death toll from worst disaster in modern Turkish history increased.
Here’s a look at the key developments Saturday from the aftermath of the earthquake.
Three rescued in hard-hit Hatay province
A couple and their son were extracted from under an apartment building in Antakya, the capital of Hatay province, on the 13th day of rescue operations, although the child later died.
The three were transferred to ambulances after spending 296 hours buried under the Kanatli apartment building in the center of the city, local TV reported. Footage showed medics fixing an IV drip to the man’s arm as he lay on a stretcher.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency identified the family as Samir Muhammed Accar, 49, his wife, Ragda, 40, and their 12-year-old son.
The bodies of the couple's two other children were also found in the rubble, reports said, quoting a member of a Kyrgyz rescue team.
Hatay was one of the worst hit of the 11 provinces in the Turkish disaster zone.
Missing soccer player’s body found
Search teams have recovered the body of Ghanaian international soccer player Christian Atsu in the ruins of a building that collapsed during the earthquake, his manager said Saturday.
The remains of the 31-year-old soccer star, who had been playing for Turkish Super Lig club Hatayspor, were found in what was left of a luxury 12-story building in Antakya, the same city where the Accar family was found.
“Atsu’s lifeless body was found under the rubble. At the moment, his belongings are still being removed,” the player's manager, Murat Uzunmehmet, told private Turkish news agency DHA.
Atsu, who previously played for English Premier League clubs Chelsea, Newcastle United, Everton and Bournemouth, signed with Hatayspor late last year.
The Turkish club said his body was being repatriated to Ghana. “There are no words to describe our sadness,” the club tweeted.
Reports a day after the quake struck had said that Atsu was pulled alive from the rubble of a collapsed building and taken to a hospital for treatment. The club, however, announced days later that Atsu and the club’s sporting director, Taner Savut, were still missing. Savut has not been found.
The contractor who build the Ronesans Rezidans building, where Atsu and Savut lived, was detained at Istanbul Airport a week ago, apparently trying to leave the country.
A teen preparing for death
A teenager who was buried under tons of debris in southeastern Turkey's city of Adiyaman filmed what he thought was his final message to family and friends after the earthquake hit.
Instead, Taha Erdem was pulled from the rubble two hours later by neighbors and taken to an aunt’s home. His parents and siblings also would be saved.
The video the 17-year-old high school student recorded on his cellphone from a cramped space amid the concrete and twisted metal when he thought death was near has become a power affirmation of life.
Taha appears remarkably calm as the screams of neighbors are heard in the background, as well as the sound of shifting rubble as powerful aftershocks continue to pound the collapsed building.
He listed his injuries and spoke of his regrets and the things he hoped to do if he emerged alive.
“Death, my friends, comes at a time when one is least expecting it.” he said, before reciting a Muslim prayer in Arabic.