Death toll surpasses 33,000 in Turkey, Syria earthquakes as anger builds over response time: Live updates

Nearly a week since the most devastating earthquakes in recent history, workers in Turkey and Syria were searching for signs of life in freezing temperatures as the death toll surpassed 33,000 and survivors expressed frustration about the rescue efforts.

The United Nations' top aid official on Sunday said aid efforts have "failed the people in north-west Syria," where more than 12 years of civil war have resulted in a complex political situation.

"They rightly feel abandoned," Martin Griffiths wrote on Twitter from the Turkey-Syria border. "Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived."

Magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday, toppling thousands of buildings and injuring tens of thousands of people. As many as 5.3 million people in Syria may need shelter, the U.N. Refugee Agency said, and the number of fatalities in both countries continues to rise.

Turkey’s death toll was 29,605 Sunday afternoon, the country's interior ministry said. The toll in Syria’s northwestern rebel-held region has reached 2,166, according to the rescue worker group the White Helmets. The overall toll in Syria stood at 3,553 Saturday, though the 1,387 deaths reported for government-held parts of the country hadn’t been updated in days, The Associated Press reported.

But news of some remarkable rescues offered glimmers of hope. On Sunday, a young girl was pulled from the rubble "in the 150th hour" in Hatay, Turkey, the country's health minister said on Twitter, where he shared a video of the rescue.

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►A family of four from the New York borough of Queens was killed in the quakes while visiting relatives in Turkey. The Council on American-Islamic Relations said they were Burak and Kimberly Firik and their sons, ages 1 and 2.

►Earthquake aid from government-held parts of Syria into territory controlled by hard-line opposition groups has been "held up" by approval issues with the Islamist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Reuters reported Sunday.

►Two women, one of them pregnant, were rescued more than 155 hours after the first quake, according to broadcast reports in Turkey. The pregnant woman was found in hard-hit Hatay province and the other woman in Gaziantep province.

►Greece's foreign minister visited Turkey on Sunday in a show of support, despite longstanding tensions between the two countries.

►Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said a Pakistani walked into a Turkish Embassy in the U.S. and donated $30 million for earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria. Sharif said on Twitter he was "deeply moved."

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Warnings of major crisis in Syria

The head of the International Rescue Committee echoed concerns about aid efforts in Syria on Sunday.

"On the Turkish side of the border, you've got a very strong government. You’ve got a massive aid effort underway," David Miliband, president and CEO of the organization, told ABC. "On the Syrian side of the border, it’s people who’ve frankly been abandoned over the last 10 years."

Rescue teams on the ground report Syrians are without food, medicine and basic hygiene supplies, and water and sanitation systems are in "ruins," Miliband told ABC. He warned Syrians are in "grave danger of a secondary crisis" because aid is largely blocked across the Turkey-Syria border, and only one humanitarian crossing point is open.

"There is news from the United Nations that the Syrian government is going to allow aid to go into this rebel-held area from the government-controlled side. But, frankly, that’s an indirect route and it’s caught up in politics," he told the outlet.

Miliband called on the U.N. Security Council to meet to discuss opening more border crossing points and urged the U.S. to send further monetary aid.

"There’s a critical role for the U.S. in saying, don’t forget these people again. The Syrian civil war has been going on for now a dozen years," Miliband told ABC, adding, "The world has moved on. But the crisis has not been resolved."

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, confirmed that notion while listing other major problems confronting Syria.

“The compounding crises of conflict, COVID, cholera, economic decline, and now the earthquake have taken an unbearable toll,” he said, adding that WHO experts were waiting to enter northwestern Syria, “where we have been told the impact is even worse.”

Sorrow turns to tension over Turkey earthquake response

Many in Turkey say they feel frustrated that rescue operations have proceeded slowly, and that valuable time has been lost during the narrow window for finding people alive beneath the rubble.

Others, particularly in the southern Hatay province near the Syrian border, say that Turkey’s government was late in delivering assistance to the hardest-hit region for what they suspect are both political and religious reasons.

In Adiyaman, southeastern Turkey, Elif Busra Ozturk waited outside the wreckage of a building on Saturday where her uncle and aunt were trapped – believed dead – and where the bodies of two of her cousins had already been found.

"For three days, I waited outside for help. No one came. There were so few rescue teams that they could only intervene in places they were sure there were people alive," she said.

– Justin Spike, The Associated Press

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Turkey issues arrest warrants for building contractors after quakes

As rescuers still pulled a lucky few from the rubble six days after the earthquakes hit, Turkish officials detained or issued arrest warrants for about 130 people allegedly involved in the construction of buildings that toppled down and crushed their occupants.

Despair also bred rage at the agonizingly slow rescue efforts, and the focus turned to who was to blame for not better preparing people in the earthquake-prone region that includes an area of Syria that was already suffering from years of civil war.

Turkey’s construction codes meet current earthquake-engineering standards, at least on paper, but they are rarely enforced, explaining why thousands of buildings toppled over or pancaked down onto the people inside.

The nongovernmental business organization TURKONFED estimated the earthquake damage at $84.1 billion. That's more than 10% of the country's gross domestic product of $819 billion in 2021, according to the World Bank.

Read more here.

– Justin Spike and Zeynep Bilginsoy, The Associated Press

Amid the devastation, helping hands and occasional moments of joy

The combined efforts of a sympathetic soldier and a neighbor helped appease a Turkish woman anguished over fear her son might have died in the earthquake, a rare happy development amid the unfathomable grief of the disaster.

The Turkish soldier climbed into the bucket of an excavator Saturday to look in a home damaged by the temblor for the cellphone of a 75-year-old woman in Antakya who had not heard from her son in five days, Reuters reported.

Murathan Adil was able to retrieve the device, belonging to a woman who gave her name as Mama Busra, but the battery was dead. However, a person in a building at the park where she waited for news heard the son's name and said he knew him and he was fine.

The person called the woman's son, and Mama Busra broke into tears when she heard him answer. "It's like you gave me the world," she said of hearing his voice.

How long can people survive after a disaster?

The amount of time people are able to survive after an earthquake varies significantly. For a person who is trapped under rubble following a quake, survival depends largely on their injuries, where and how they are trapped, their age, preexisting health, weather conditions and other factors.

Most people trapped in the rubble of an earthquake can only survive about a week, experts say.

"Typically, it is rare to find survivors after the fifth to seventh days, and most search and rescue teams will consider stopping by then," Dr. Jarone Lee, an emergency and disaster medicine expert at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the Associated Press.

"There are many stories of people surviving well past the seven-day mark," Lee added. "Unfortunately, these are usually rare and extraordinary cases." Read more here.

– Mike Snider and Wyatte Grantham-Philips, USA TODAY

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Live updates: Turkey, Syria earthquake death toll surpasses 33,000