The combined death toll in Turkey and Syria from last week’s powerful earthquake has now risen above 40,000.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that 35,418 people were killed in the 7.8 magnitude quake that struck near the southeastern city of Kahramanmaras on February 6, making it the deadliest earthquake in Turkish history.
Eight days after the quake, rescue crews continued to dig more survivors from the rubble Tuesday, including 18-year-old Muhummed Cafer Cetin and his 21-year-old brother, who were pulled from the ruins of a building in Kahramanmaras nearly 200 hours after the earthquake. Another miraculous rescue occurred in the city of Antakya, when a teacher was rescued from the rubble of an apartment building.
Turkish television broadcast scenes of the rescues, but experts warned the window is closing for finding more people alive in what remains of collapsed buildings after so much time.
The quake, which President Erdogan called “the disaster of the century,” destroyed tens of thousands of buildings and rendered an equal number uninhabitable, leaving scores of residents without shelter from bitter winter temperatures. Authorities have arrested several building contractors and charged them with violating Turkey’s building codes.
Meanwhile, more than 5,500 deaths have been confirmed in neighboring Syria, according to figures compiled by the United Nations humanitarian agency and Syria’s state-run news agency. At least 1,400 people were killed in areas under government control, while another 4,400 are dead in Syria’s rebel-held northwest.
An 11-truck U.N. humanitarian convoy entered the rebel-controlled area Tuesday from Turkey through the newly opened Bab al-Salam border crossing, the first since the world agency reached an agreement with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday to allow humanitarian workers to use two additional crossing points from Turkey into opposition-held areas to speed deliveries. It is the first time since the civil war broke out in 2011 that Assad has agreed to allow aid to cross from Turkey to rebel-held areas.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launched a $397 million appeal for the earthquake response in Syria, adding that a similar appeal is being drawn up for Turkey.
The VOA Turkish Service contributed to this report, which includes some information from The Associated Press and Reuters.