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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Death toll from quake passes 40,000 in Turkey and Syria

Displaced earthquake survivors gather outside a tent in Erzin, Turkey, on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.

By Jason Horowitz

More than a week after a powerful earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, there were a few glimmers of hope on Tuesday after rescuers in Turkey defied the odds by digging eight survivors out of the rubble and Syria’s authoritarian president, Bashar Assad, agreed for the first time in a 12-year civil war to open up more border crossings from Turkey so aid could flow into affected areas controlled by groups that oppose his government.

The combined death toll for the two countries rose further on Tuesday to more than 40,000, along with the chaos, humanitarian challenges and finger pointing that have followed one of the deadliest disasters this century.

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried on Tuesday to reassure a country that was already suffering from economic hardship before the quake struck. “Nobody should have any doubt: This nation overcame many disasters,” he said at the headquarters of the country’s emergency management agency in Ankara. “We will overcome this one, too.”

Here are the latest developments:

— Death toll: The official death toll in Turkey stood at 35,418, Erdogan said on Tuesday. Syria’s toll had climbed to more than 5,500, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian agency.

— Children: Millions of children are in need of urgent humanitarian support because of the earthquake, the United Nations Children’s Fund said. Although the total number of children in need is unclear, UNICEF noted that 4.6 million children live in the 10 provinces of Turkey that were hit by the quake and that more than 2.5 million children are affected in Syria.

— The United Nations: The global body announced the launch of a $397 million humanitarian appeal for Syria covering a period of three months, and its secretary-general, António Guterres, said that a similar appeal would be announced for Turkey. The organization has also released $50 million from its emergency funds for earthquake relief.

— Improbable rescues: Workers dug Muhammed Cafer Cetin, 18, from the rubble of a building 198 hours after the devastating quake, according to the Turkish State broadcaster TRT, making it the third improbable rescue of the morning. The conditions of the eight survivors, all of whom were taken to a hospital, were unknown.

— Criticism in Turkey: Critics of Erdogan, who is seeking to defend his response to the disaster, drew attention to videos showing him having earlier hailed some of the housing projects that crumbled in the quake and buried thousands of people. The Turkish authorities also arrested more contractors, including one connected to a collapsed 16-story building in the city of Adana, where at least 70 people died.

— More aid reaches Syria: A Saudi relief plane carrying 35 tons of food and other aid arrived at Aleppo International Airport in Syria on Tuesday, in a part of the divided country controlled by the government. Dozens of aid groups working in Syria urgently called for an increase in international support.

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