Earthquake death toll tops 7,200 in Turkey and Syria

Rescue workers fanned across Turkey and Syria Tuesday, in a second day of racing to find survivors from the massive earthquake and multiple aftershocks that leveled thousands of buildings across the region, and sent the confirmed death toll soaring past 7,200 people.

Freezing winter temperatures and dozens of aftershocks from Monday morning’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake hampered the work to sift through the rubble of buildings and find survivors who are at risk of suffering from hypothermia as temperatures dip below 27 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the southern Turkish city of Adana, worried residents outside a collapsed building watched rescue workers search for people under the rubble. The 15-story residential high-rise was just one of 11 buildings that fell in the city.

Two elderly women and a man were embracing each other and crying after one of their daughters had died. “She was happy,” one of them said. “We couldn’t imagine it would end like this.”

By late Tuesday, the death toll in Turkey and Syria had surpassed 7,200, including more than 5,400 in Turkey, with 31,000 people injured in the country, The Associated Press reported. At least 1,800 have died and 3,700 were injured in Syria, according to figures from government-held and rebel-controlled parts of the war-torn country reported by the AP.

The World Health Organization said the combined death toll in the two countries could eventually rise above 20,000.

In a national address Tuesday afternoon, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan updated citizens with the latest news from the affected region, saying, “I pray to God for mercy for the citizens who lost their lives, offer my condolences to their loved ones and the nation, and wish a speedy recovery for the injured.”

The quake hit at 4:17 a.m. local time in Turkey’s Gaziantep province, the U.S. Geological Survey said — a time many residents were still in bed. It took place on the East Anatolian fault, the boundary between the Anatolian plate, the African plate and the Arabian plate of the Earth’s crust. The largest aftershock, measuring 7.5, struck about 60 miles to the north of the epicenter of the initial one on a different fault line.

About 13.5 million people were affected over 10 provinces in Turkey, according to the government. More than 8,000 people in Turkey have been rescued. The government also said more than 11,000 buildings have been damaged, leaving more than 380,000 people seeking refuge in temporary shelters, hotels, mosques, and community centers.

Dozens of countries around the world, including the United States, dispatched teams to assist in the rescue efforts, and Turkey’s government said more than 16,000 rescue workers have been deployed to help those affected in the region by late Tuesday morning.

A newborn baby who was found still tied by her umbilical cord to her mother and pulled alive from the rubble of a home in northern Syria following a deadly earthquake, receives medical care at a clinic in Afrin, on Tuesday. The infant is the sole survivor of her immediate family, the rest of whom were killed when the quake flattened their home in Jindayris, cousin Khalil al-Suwadi said.

Reports of a heart-wrenching moment are emerging from northern Syria, from a town in the Aleppo region, where relatives pulled a newborn baby alive from a toppled home, according to the Agence France-Presse, the AP and Syrian media. The news wires reported that a relative said the baby had been found still connected by her umbilical cord to her mother, who had died along with the rest of her immediate family when the house collapsed in Monday’s earthquake.

In another harrowing operation, a relief group in Syria called the Molham Team shared footage it said shows a family rescued alive in northern Syria after a 40-hour search following the quake. With the rescuers and onlookers seen joyously celebrating the news, the group said this scene has served to lift the spirits and hopes of other families.

The toll from the quake and aftershocks devastated a region already suffering from more than a decade of civil war in Syria, a conflict that has spurred more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees into Turkey. An estimated 4.1 million people in the affected region were already receiving United Nations humanitarian assistance.

Rescuers racing against time

On Tuesday, NPR reached Antakya, Turkey, and found a city built over many years to have been devastated by about 80 seconds of earthquake.

Outside one half-toppled building, a woman tells NPR that her 42-year-old son had been found alive but trapped in the rubble on Monday.

When rescue workers finally manage to dig him out, it is too late. They wrap him in a blanket and lay him before his mother to say goodbye.

Scenes like this have been unfolding in both countries in a desperate search for survivors, with time running out and obstacles making matters difficult.

Humanitarian groups in the region said the only crossing between Turkey and Syria approved by the U.N. for transporting international aid has been unusable since the earthquake struck, further hampering efforts.

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