Rescuers pulled out children on Friday (local time) from the rubble of the Turkey-Syria earthquake as the toll crossed 24,000, reported The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH).
The confirmed death toll from the deadliest quake in the region in two decades stood at more than 24,000 across southern Turkey and northwest Syria four days after it hit. The stench of death hung over Turkey’s eastern city of Kahramanmaras — the epicentre of the first 7.8-magnitude tremor that upturned millions of lives in the pre-dawn hours of Monday. It is located in a remote region filled with people already displaced by war, reported France24.
Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said authorities should have reacted faster to this week’s huge earthquake.
Erdogan on Friday visited Turkey’s Adiyaman province, 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.
Erdogan is standing for re-election in a vote scheduled for May 14 and his opponents have seized upon the issue to attack him. The election may now be postponed due to the disaster.
With anger simmering over delays in the delivery of aid and getting the rescue effort underway, the disaster is likely to play into the election, if it goes ahead.
Erdogan, for whom the vote was his toughest challenge in two decades in power even before the earthquake, has called for solidarity and condemned what he has described as “negative campaigns for political interest”.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of Turkey’s main opposition party, criticised the government’s response.
“The earthquake was huge, but what was much bigger than the earthquake was the lack of coordination,lack of planning and incompetence,” Kilicdaroglu said in a statement.
Hundreds of thousands more people have been left homeless and short of food in bleak winter conditions and leaders in both countries have faced questions about their response, reported SMH.
Rescuers, including teams from dozens of countries, toiled night and day in the ruins of thousands of wrecked buildings to find buried survivors. In freezing temperatures, they regularly called for silence as they listened for any sound of life from mangled concrete mounds.
The United Nations warned that at least 870,000 people urgently needed hot meals across Turkey and Syria. In Syria alone, up to 5.3 million people may have been made homeless.
“That is a huge number and comes to a population already suffering mass displacement,” said Sivanka Dhanapala, the Syria representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
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 reported.
His government also approved humanitarian aid deliveries across the frontlines of the country’s 12-year civil war, a move that could speed up the arrival of help for millions of desperate people. The World Food Program said earlier it was running out of stocks in rebel-held northwest Syria as the state of war there complicated relief efforts, reported SMH.