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Earthquake death toll nears 20K

Hopes of finding more survivors in Syria, Turkey begin to fade


Destroyed buildings are seen from above in Antakya, southeastern Turkey, on Thursday.

Photo/Hussein Malla/Associated Press

The Associated Press

Rescuers pulled more survivors from beneath collapsed buildings Thursday, but hopes were starting to fade of finding many more people alive over three days after a catastrophic earthquake and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 19,800.

The quake that razed thousands of buildings was one of the deadliest worldwide in more than a decade.

The deaths have surpassed the toll from a 2011 earthquake off Fukushima, Japan, that triggered a tsunami, killing more than 18,400.

The latest on the earthquake:

Dutch police say they found narcotics in a truck that was part of a convoy carrying aid to victims of the devastating earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria.

Police spokesman Steven van Santen said the drugs were found Thursday following a tip. They were hidden among emergency supplies in a truck that was one of six heading for Turkey or Syria.

He did not give details of what kind of drugs or the quantity. Police said in a statement that they were removed from the truck and destroyed. No arrests were immediately made.

The other five trucks in the convoy were being checked for drugs. Van Santen said as soon as the checks were completed, the aid supplies would be released so they could continue the journey to the stricken region.

Turkish groups throughout the Netherlands have been gathering emergency relief supplies in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit the country and neighboring Syria, killing more than 19,300 people and destroying countless buildings.

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— Find more AP coverage at https://

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is pressing the international community to provide money for Turkey and Syria and work on physical access for aid to earthquake-stricken parts of Syria.

Guterres spoke to reporters at U.N. headquarters Thursday, hours after a U.N. aid convoy crossed from Turkey into Syria’s rebel-held northwest for the first time since Monday’s 7.8 magnitude quake.

“More help is on the way, but much more -- much more -- is needed,” the U.N. chief said, adding that the organization plans to launch an international appeal next week for funding for the effort. The U.N. has released $25 million of its own money so far.

“People are facing nightmare on top of nightmare,” the U.N. chief said.

Millions displaced by the Syria’s internal conflict are living in camps in the northwest of the country, where aid deliveries across the border have become a politically charged issue.

The U.N. Security Council in 2014 authorized aid deliveries to opposition-held parts of Syria from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan through four border crossings. But that has shrunk over the years to just one, amid opposition from Russia, a top ally of the Syrian government, which wants aid to come through its capital, Damascus.

With Syria’s parliament calling for the immediate lifting of Western-led sanctions on Syria, Guterres insisted that “no sanctions of any kind interfere with relief to the population of Syria in the present.”

Some Syrians living abroad have said on social media that online fundraising platforms have blocked their efforts to wire money to their sanctioned homeland.

Reflecting the scale of devastation, an indoor sports hall has been turned into a make-shift morgue in Kahramanmaras, the nearest Turkish city to the earthquake’s epicenter.

On the floor of the hall, the size of a basketball court, lay dozens of bodies wrapped in blankets or black shrouds. At least one was very small, seemingly the body of a child aged five or six.

A man wept over a black body bag in the bed of a small truck. “I’m 70 years old, God should have taken me, not my son,” he cried.

Erdal Usta, an assistant to the provincial prosecutor, said the bodies that are dug from the rubble are brought to the building and catalogued, and await identification by relatives.
Workers on Thursday continued rescue operations in Kahramanmaras, but it was clear that many trapped in collapsed buildings had already died.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, a Greek Cypriot, has conveyed his condolences to Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar over fatalities among members of a school volleyball team, their teachers and parents from the ethnically divided island’s breakaway north.

The group of 39 had been staying in a hotel that collapsed during the quake in the Turkish town of Adiyaman. It remained unclear Thursday how many have survived.

Nazim Cavusoglu, the Turkish Cypriot education minister, traveled to Adiyaman along with grieving family members.

Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state and has stationed thousands of troops in the island’s north since 1974, when it invaded following a coup there aimed at union with Greece.

The Cyprus government said Thursday it’s dispatching 15 rescuers, a doctor and a paramedic to Turkey after Ankara accepted its offer for help as part of the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism.
Cypriot NGOs and other groups are organizing a food, clothing and medicine collection drive.

Turkey’s foreign ministry says that as of Thursday afternoon, 95 countries have offered help, and 6,479 rescuers from 56 countries are working in stricken areas.

Nineteen other countries were expected to send 2,427 rescuers.

Also Thursday, Turkey’s education minister said schools would remain closed nationwide until Feb. 20, extending the pause for another week.

Local residents have told the AP that Monday’s earthquake has damaged the Afrin, or Maydanki, Dam in northern Syria, flooding a village.

They said the dam’s concrete cracked open Thursday and flooded the northwestern village of Tlool in the Salqin region, partially submerging those buildings that had withstood the quake.

Residents scrambled to collect personal belongings and load them in trucks. The flooding further compounded the woes of millions in the rebel-held enclave who live in poverty, rely on aid to survive and struggle to access clean and potable water.

Palestinian emergency responders left the West Bank on Thursday to assist with rescue efforts in Turkey and Syria.

Imad Zuhairi, director of the Palestinian International Cooperation Agency, said 73 doctors, paramedics and specialists will travel to neighboring Jordan, and from there one team will be dispatched to Turkey and the other to Syria.

While some survivors were still being rescued across the region, some family members of those buried in the rubble have begun to lose hope after waiting for days.

In vast swaths of Nurdagi, a city of around 40,000 nestled between snowy mountains some 35 miles from the epicenter of the quake, scarcely a building was left unaffected. Those that still stood were heavily damaged and unsafe for habitation.

Throngs of onlookers, mostly family members of people trapped inside, watched as heavy machines ripped at one collapsed building, its floors pancaked together with little more than a few inches in between.

Mehmet Yilmaz, 67, watched bulldozers and other demolition equipment bringing down what remained of the structure where six members of his family had been trapped including four children, one a three-month-old.

He said he estimated around 80 people were still amid the ruins, but didn’t believe any of them would be recovered alive as the operation’s target had been switched from rescue to demolition.


Syria’s Health Minister Hassan Ghabbash has urged the World Heath Organization to supply his country with urgently-needed medical supplies for treating the thousands of people injured by the earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey earlier this week.

Ghabbash made his comments on Thursday during a meeting with WHO’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ahmed Al-Mandhari, who is in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

State television quoted Al-Mandhari as saying that WHO will give all the support to help Syria overcome the effects of Monday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked southern Turkey and northern Syria, killing more than 17,000 people, with many still trapped under the rubble.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces a tough election in May, has renewed a promise to quake survivors to rebuild destroyed homes within a year.

Visiting regions affected by the quake for a second day on Thursday, Erdogan said the new buildings would be no higher than three or four stories.

The government was working to install temporary container homes as well as caravans to shelter those left homeless, he said after a tour of the city of Gaziantep.

Erdogan said that a state emergency that he declared earlier this week in the 10 provinces affected by the quake would be approved in parliament later on Thursday. The government has said the emergency measure would help facilitate disaster management in those areas.

In Gaziantep, Erdogan said the measure would allow the government to fight looters, “loan sharks” and other groups that he said would aim to exploit the crisis.

U.N. aid shipments to northern Syria from Turkey resumed on Thursday morning following Monday’s earthquake.

Trucks crossed the Bab al-Hawa border point, the only crossing through which the U.N. is authorized to deliver aid from Turkey into northwest Syria.

The crossing had been closed to aid shipments because of road damage from the earthquake. The route in the past three days has been used to transport bodies of Syrians killed in the earthquake in Turkey.

Officials said six aid shipments that had been delayed by the earthquake were the first to cross on Thursday, to be followed by quake-response aid.

U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen said Thursday that the U.N. would be sending aid to northern Syria both by way of Turkey and across battle lines from government-held Damascus.

Millions of Syrians in the northwest live in poverty, mostly relying on aid to survive. The earthquake compounded the woes of the enclave, with many families displaced by the 12-year conflict struggling with dwindling aid programs.

The Czech Foreign Ministry on Thursday confirmed that a Czech citizen was killed in the earthquake in Turkey.

The ministry said the victim was a woman who had long-term residency in Turkey. No further details were given.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was scheduled to travel Thursday to the quake-hit provinces of Gaziantep, Osmaniye and Kilis amid ongoing criticism that the government’s response has been too slow.

In addition to 12,873 people killed in Turkey, the country’s disaster management agency said more than 60,000 have been injured. On the Syrian side of the border, 3,162 have been reported dead and more than 5,000 injured.

Tens of thousands are thought to have lost their homes.

Experts said the survival window for those trapped under the rubble or otherwise unable to obtain basic necessities was closing rapidly. At the same time, they said, it is too soon to abandon hope.

Three prisoners were killed after rioting broke out at a prison in quake-hit Hatay province, officials and news reports said.

There were conflicting reports over the incident.

The Justice Ministry said Thursday some inmates started a fire in an attempt to escape, prompting an “intervention” by prison authorities.

At least 12 prisoners were injured during the attempt to suppress the riot and three of them died in the hospital, the ministry’s directorate for prisons said in a statement.

The independent Bianet news website reported that some prisoners set dormitories on fire, demanding to be transferred to a safe location, and sought information about family members affected by the devastation.

Bianet said the incident occurred on Tuesday — a day after the earthquake hit. All prisoners were transferred to other penitentiaries, it said.

North Korea says its foreign minister sent a message of condolences to her Turkish counterpart over the earthquake that killed thousands in that country and Syria.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Thursday that Foreign Minister Choe Sun Hui in her message to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expressed “deep sympathy and condolences” to victims and their families and wished for a swift recovery.

North Korea had sent a much higher profile message to Syria, issued by leader Kim Jong Un to Syrian President Bashar Assad. State media said Wednesday that Kim in the message said Syria under Assad’s leadership would “eradicate the aftermath of the earthquake damage as soon as possible.”

Turkey sent thousands of troops to South Korea to fight under U.S.-led U.N. forces as they repelled a North Korean invasion during the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea and Syria are the only nations other than Russia that recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, as they align with Moscow over the war in Ukraine.

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