The death toll from earthquakes in Turkey and Syria surpassed a staggering 25,000 on Saturday as fewer victims were being found alive, while the work of some rescue teams was interrupted due to security concerns.
In Turkey alone, at least 21,848 people were killed and 80,097 others injured by the two strong quakes that jolted the region earlier this week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in the Sanliurfa province.
In neighbouring Syria, 3,553 deaths have been reported so far.
The head of the White Helmets aid organization who work in opposition-held areas of Syria declared that their search and rescue mission was now “finished,” dashing hopes that further survivors might be found.
“We did not rescue anyone alive anymore, that is why we moved to the second phase which is the removing of bodies from under the rubble,” Raed Saleh, the head of the White Helmets told dpa.
They tweeted that they have not rescued anyone alive since February 9.
Turkish universities will switch to distance learning for this semester, in part to open up space for homeless victims to move into student dormitories, Erdogan added.
So far, 102,388 people have been evacuated from 10 quake-stricken southern provinces, Turkish disaster agency AFAD added. Over 166,000 rescue teams and volunteers were working, including more than 8,000 foreign personnel.
Erdogan said on live TV in the Sanliurfa province that over 1.5 million people were taking shelter in tents, public dormitories, or hotels.
Meanwhile at least 3,553 are known to have died and 5,276 injured in neighbouring Syria, where international aid has been slow to trickle in.
Around 5 million people are believed to have been affected by the earthquakes in Syria, according to the WHO.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has arrived in the Syrian city of Aleppo, a UN source told dpa, while UN aid chief Martin Griffiths is scheduled to visit.
While Tedros was touring shelters, an unidentified man stopped him to plead with him: “We are now in crisis please remove the sanctions on Syrians… We are hungry… [Everything] I own [has] been destroyed.”
The WHO chief said he welcomed the US’ decision on Friday to issue a six-month licence to allow earthquake relief to Syria, which would otherwise be prohibited due to the sanctions on the country and hoped this measure would help.
Aleppo, in the north-west of the country, is controlled by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Tedros’ plane carried around 35 tons of vital medical equipment and a second plane will arrive within two days, Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported.
Meanwhile, a convoy from Saudi Arabia carrying aid supplies entered rebel-held areas in north-western Syria, marking the first such shipment by an Arab country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state-run Saudi Television said the convoy was accompanied by a team specialized in search-and-rescue missions.
At this point, however, six days after the disaster, the chances of survival are vanishingly small.
Nonetheless, a handful of remarkable rescues were reported after five days of searching. A 4-year-old girl named Seng?l was pulled alive in Turkey’s Gaziantep after 132 hours, state broadcaster TRT said. Teams then reached her father moments later.
A Turkish couple in the southern province of Adiyaman were brought to safety on Saturday after being trapped under the rubble of a collapsed home for more than 129 hours, TRT said, while a 2-month-old baby was rescued alive in Hatay province, state news agency Anadolu reported.
At least four people were pulled alive from the rubble on Friday night in the Syrian city of Jableh, according to the Syrian Red Crescent.
Turkey’s disaster agency said more than 2,000 aftershocks had hit the region since two massive quakes hit in succession on Monday morning.
Meanwhile, following the suspension of rescue work by German and Austrian teams due to security concerns, the Austrian team have resumed their efforts with Turkish military protection.
The Turkish army has taken over the protection of the soldiers of the disaster relief unit, the spokesperson of the Austrian Armed Forces tweeted on Saturday afternoon.
The Austrian military, who have been deployed in Turkey since Tuesday, suspended its rescue operations owing to “increasing aggression between factions in Turkey.”
Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Kugelweis of the Austrian Armed Forces told the APA news agency that there had been reports of gunfire.
Germany’s Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) and the aid organization I.S.A.R Germany have not yet resumed their rescue work.
THW and I.S.A.R attributed the tense situation to “the shortage of food and the problematic water supply in the earthquake area,” among other things.
I.S.A.R director of operations Steven Bayer said, “It can be seen that grief is slowly giving way to anger.”
This anger is already being addressed in Turkey, where at least 14 people were detained over alleged negligence concerning collapsed buildings following the quakes, according to state news agency Anadolu.
Separately, prosecutors are looking to detain 33 more in the city of Diyarbakir over alleged responsibility for “building defects” such as removing concrete columns to free up space.
Most of the detained were contractors. One was caught at Istanbul Airport where he had been attempting to flee to Montenegro with cash, said Anadolu.