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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Death toll in Turkey and Syria surpasses 20,000

A man searches through the debris of a house by flashlight in Hatay, Turkey on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023

By Ben Hubbard, Raja Abdulrahim, Safak Timur, Vivian Yee and Mike Ives

The United Nations on Thursday sent its first aid convoy into opposition-controlled Syria since a powerful earthquake hit the region three days ago, a natural disaster that has killed more than 20,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless across Syria and neighboring Turkey.

Truck shortages, blocked roads and other logistical hurdles are impeding efforts by the 100,000-plus rescue personnel working in Turkey to unearth victims, bury the dead and provide aid to desperate survivors.

Subfreezing temperatures and widespread shortages of two essential utilities — heating and electricity — will not make their work any easier.

Across the border in northwestern Syria, where millions displaced by the country’s civil war had been enduring a brutal winter without heating when the earthquake hit, power outages are creating fuel shortages in hospitals, according to the United Nations. Snowfall has further impeded rescue efforts there, and temperatures were forecast to dip below freezing later Thursday after rising during the day.

In other key developments:

— A three-month state of emergency went into effect for 10 of Turkey’s 81 provinces Thursday after the country’s parliament approved the move. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had signaled the measure Tuesday in response to the vast destruction caused by the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck the area early this week.

— Bereaved family members on the Syrian side of the border waited in the bitter cold to receive the bodies of relatives who had died in Turkey, in keeping with an Islamic custom that requires Muslims to be buried within 24 hours.

— Syria lodged a formal request for aid with the European Union, but little such assistance has arrived so far, and the country’s civil war is complicating efforts to deliver it.

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