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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Quake death toll passes 12,000 in Turkey and Syria as desperation builds

Local residents turn away after surveying the wreckage of buildings in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023.

By Ben Hubbard and Safak Timur

Two days after a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed more than 12,000 people in Turkey and Syria, families huddled in the cold rain, hitching tarps to make improvised tents, resting on bits of furniture pulled from the wreckage and lining up for shoes, blankets — anything available.

Many were angry that it was taking so long for rescue crews with heavy machinery to arrive. In Kahramanmaras, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey visited Wednesday, three bodies were recovered from a six-story building, and there were at least six more victims in the rubble. “The volunteers were here, but not the state,” said a relative of two of the victims.

Buildings fell across streets all across southern Turkey, rendering them impassible, and a fire station in Pazarcik was turned into a makeshift funeral home. Cracks in the walls of buildings that still stood were wide enough to reach through. Broken glass litters the ground, threatening to slash the feet of survivors, many of whom are shoeless and still in the sleeping clothes they wore when the quake struck two days ago.

Here are key developments:

— Erdogan, Turkey’s paramount politician for 20 years, made his first visit to the disaster zone Wednesday to tell his people how much his government had already done to help, while urging that citizens “show patience” as more aid made its way to them. But the leader of the country’s largest opposition party rejected a call for unity, saying that Erdogan was “fully responsible.” Criticism of the government’s disaster response would only add to headwinds for Erdogan’s quest for reelection in May.

— Syria’s more than decadelong civil war is complicating efforts to get aid to the country. Many refugees displaced by the fighting live in the quake-stricken area of Turkey, and while aid was not crossing into Syria, bodies were.

— The death toll in Turkey has risen to 9,057, Erdogan said. Rescue missions will focus on some of the hardest-hit provinces in Turkey: Hatay, Adiyaman and Kahramanmaras. In Syria, where more than a decade of civil war had already created a humanitarian crisis, at least 2,992 people died in the quake, according to the state Health Ministry and the White Helmets relief group.

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