Ankara: The death toll from earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria surpassed 25,000 as emergency workers continue the search for survivors, with miraculous rescues reported.
Officials and medics said 21,848 people had died in Turkey and 3,553 in Syria from Monday's 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the confirmed total to 25,401.
After 122 hours, a 70-year-old woman was evacuated alive from the wreckage of an apartment building in the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras.
Menekse Tabak was swaddled in a blanket while rescuers carried her to a waiting ambulance in the province, 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.
Turkish soldiers started patrolling parts of the quake zone against plundering and theft.
The number of dead in Turkey and Syria rose to 24,804 according to Turkish officials and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of activists on the ground. Tens of thousands of people are still missing.
The death toll in Turkey exceeded that of the devastating 1999 earthquakes near Istanbul, when about 18,000 people died according to official figures.
The death toll in Turkey has risen to 20,665, the country’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said on Saturday.
It said that nearly 93,000 victims have been evacuated from the quake zone in southern Turkey and that more than 166,000 personnel were involved in the rescue and relief efforts.
There have been 1,891 aftershocks since the first quake early on Monday, it added.
Meanwhile, international aid was trickling into parts of Turkey and Syria where rescuers toiled to pull children from rubble.
A winter freeze in the affected areas has hurt rescue efforts and compounded the suffering of millions of people, many in desperate need of aid.
At least 870,000 people urgently needed food in the two countries after the quake, which has left up to 5.3 million people homeless in Syria alone, the UN warned.
Aftershocks following Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor have added to the death toll and further upended the lives of survivors.
“When I see the destroyed buildings, the bodies, it’s not that I can’t see where I will be in two or three years - I can’t imagine where I’ll be tomorrow,” said Fidan Turan, a pensioner in Turkey’s southern city of Antakya, her eyes filling with tears.
“We’ve lost 60 of our extended family members,” she said. “Sixty! What can I say? It’s God’s will.”
The United Nations World Food Programme appealed for $77 million to provide food rations to at least 590,000 newly displaced people in Turkey and 284,000 in Syria.
Of those, 545,000 were internally displaced people and 45,000 were refugees, it said.
The UN rights office on Friday urged all actors in the affected area - where Kurdish militants and Syrian rebels operate - to allow humanitarian access.
The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is considered a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies, announced a temporary halt in fighting to ease recovery work.
In rebel-held northwestern Syria, about four million people rely on humanitarian relief but there have been no aid deliveries from government-controlled areas in three weeks.
The Syrian government said it had approved the delivery of humanitarian assistance to quake-hit areas outside its control.
Only two aid convoys have crossed the border this week from Turkey, where authorities are engaged in an even bigger quake relief operation of their own.
A decade of civil war and Syrian-Russian aerial bombardment had already destroyed hospitals and created shortages of electricity and water.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Security Council to authorise the opening of new cross-border humanitarian aid points between Turkey and Syria. The council will meet to discuss Syria, possibly early next week.
Turkey said it was working on opening two new routes into rebel-held parts of Syria.
The winter freeze has left thousands of people either spending nights in their cars or huddling around makeshift fires that have become ubiquitous across the quake-hit region.
More than 12,000 buildings destroyed or damaged
Officials in Turkey say 12,141 buildings were either destroyed or seriously damaged in the earthquake.
“The floors are piling on top of each other,” said Mustafa Erdik, a professor at Istanbul-based Bogazici University, which means the chances of being found alive are slim.
Police on Friday detained a contractor trying to flee the country after his building collapsed in the catastrophic quake.
The tremor was the most powerful and deadliest since 33,000 people died in a 7.8-magnitude tremor in 1939.
One of the single biggest tragedies involved 24 Cypriot children between the ages of 11 and 14 who were in Turkey for a volleyball tournament when the quake swallowed their hotel.
Ten of their bodies were repatriated to their homeland in northern Cyprus.
Turkish media reported that at least 19 people in the group - which included 15 accompanying adults - have now been confirmed dead.