“There Are Shortcomings”: Turkish President As Quake Deaths Top 17,000

Turkey Earthquake: Rescuers raced to save countless people still trapped under rubble as freezing temperatures deepened the misery for survivors of an earthquake in Turkey and Syria that killed more than 17,000 people.

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Deaths from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake are expected to rise sharply as rescue efforts pass the 72-hour mark that disaster experts consider the most likely time to save lives.

In response to criticism of the government’s response to the earthquake, one of the deadliest this century, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged “shortcomings.”

People have scrambled for food and shelter – and in some cases watched helplessly as their relatives called for rescue, and then went silent.

Semire Coban, a kindergarten teacher in Turkey’s Hatay province, said her nephew, sister-in-law and sister-in-law’s sister were trapped under the ruins. There is no sign of life.”

We’re trying to talk to them, but they aren’t responding… We’re waiting for help. It’s been 48 hours,” she said.

Despite rising death tolls, rescuers kept pulling survivors from the rubble.

Erdogan visited Kahramanmaras, the quake’s epicentre, and acknowledged the response had problems.

Obviously, there are flaws. It’s impossible to prepare for a disaster like this,” he said.

Turkish mobile networks resumed access to Twitter on Thursday morning after the social network went down for several hours Wednesday, according to AFP and NetBlocks.

In a tweet Thursday, deputy infrastructure minister Omer Fatih Sayan said Turkey expected Twitter to cooperate more in the “fight against disinformation”.

Children saved

Even though it was minus-five degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit) in Gaziantep early Thursday, thousands of families slept in cars and makeshift tents, scared to stay in their homes.

Children were carried in blankets by their parents in the streets of the southeastern Turkish city, close to the epicentre of the earthquake.

Melek Halici, whose two-year-old daughter was wrapped in a blanket as rescuers worked late into Wednesday night, said “When we sit down, it’s painful.”

Officials and medics said 12,873 people died in Turkey and at least 3,162 in Syria from Monday’s earthquake, bringing the total to 16,035. The number is expected to keep rising.

The EU is planning a donor conference in March to mobilize international aid for Syria and Turkey.

“We’re racing against the clock to save lives together,” EU chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.

When a tragedy like this hits a people, no one should be left alone.

‘People dying every second’

The scale of the damage and the lack of help in some areas made survivors feel alone.

In his rebel-held Syrian town of Jindayris, Hassan, who didn’t provide his full name, said there are now more people underneath the rubble than above.

He said there are 400-500 people trapped under each collapsed building, and only 10 people are trying to pull them out.

As part of their “race against time,” the White Helmets are trying to rescue people buried under rubble in rebel-held areas of Syria.

They have been toiling since the quake to pull survivors out from under the debris of dozens of flattened buildings in northwestern areas of war-torn Syria that remain outside the government’s control.

A leading UN official called for the facilitation of aid access to rebel-held areas in the northwest, warning that relief stocks will soon be depleted.

“Put politics aside and let us do our humanitarian work,” the UN’s resident Syria coordinator El-Mostafa Benlamlih told AFP in an interview.

Syria appeals for EU help

The issue of aid to Syria is a delicate one, and the sanctioned government in Damascus made an official plea to the EU for help, the bloc’s commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic said.

A decade of civil war and Syrian-Russian aerial bombardment had already destroyed hospitals, collapsed the economy and prompted electricity, fuel and water shortages.

The European Commission is “encouraging” EU member countries to respond to Syria’s request for medical supplies and food, while monitoring to ensure that any aid “is not diverted” by President Bashar al-Assad’s government, Lenarcic noted.

Dozens of nations, including the United States, China and the Gulf States have pledged to help, and search teams as well as relief supplies have already arrived.

The EU was swift to dispatch rescue teams to Turkey, but it initially offered only minimal assistance to Syria because of EU sanctions imposed since 2011 on Assad’s government over its brutal crackdown on protesters that spiralled into a civil war.

The Turkey-Syria border is one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

Monday’s quake was the largest Turkey has seen since 1939, when 33,000 people died in the eastern Erzincan province.

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