AP

Live Updates | Turkey, Syria quake is deadliest since 2015

Feb 7, 2023, 2:36 PM | Updated: Feb 8, 2023, 3:59 pm

Two women hug each other in front of a destroyed building in Kahramanmaras, southern Turkey, Wednes...

Two women hug each other in front of a destroyed building in Kahramanmaras, southern Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. With the hope of finding survivors fading, stretched rescue teams in Turkey and Syria searched Wednesday for signs of life in the rubble of thousands of buildings toppled by a catastrophic earthquake. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The catastrophic earthquake that razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria became one of the deadliest quakes worldwide in more than a decade Wednesday and the death toll kept rising, approaching 12,000. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal in 2015 killed more than 8,800 people.

Rescue crews braved freezing overnight temperatures in quake-hit areas in both countries in the hope of reaching survivors and pulling more bodies from the rubble.

The latest on the earthquake:

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Turkey’s foreign minister says his country is working to get international aid to earthquake-hit areas inside Syria, but damage was making efforts more difficult.

Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday that Turkey is not “neglecting” to get the aid where it’s needed in Syria. He said that’s why Ankara is trying to open Syrian government-controlled border crossings “because it’s a humanitarian situation and not a political one.”

Those crossings have remained shut for years because of tensions between Turkey and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

Turkey’s top diplomat said Cilvegozu gate is already open, leading into opposition-held Idlib province although roads are damaged.

He added that Turkey is opening its airspace to flights hauling international aid to Syrian airports such as the one in Aleppo.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS:

— Wreckage, rescue and hope in Turkey’s earthquake epicenter

— Photos capture earthquake’s devastation in Syria and Turkey

— Aid to quake-hit Syria slowed by sanctions, war’s divisions

— A glance at some of the world’s deadliest earthquakes in the last 25 years

— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/earthquakes

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The European Union says it will hold a special donor conference in the coming months to raise funds for earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the 27-member bloc is sending the message to the people of Turkey and Syria that it will support their communities because “no one should be left alone when a tragedy like this hits a people.”

The event to be held in Brussels will seek to raise money and organize relief once the immediate needs of the affected populations have been addressed.

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Turkish police say 18 people have been detained after its cyber patrol task force identified 202 accounts that shared “provocative posts” about the earthquake.

Police said Wednesday five of the 18 will face trial after the accounts were investigated for social media posts “with the goal of spreading fear and panic.”

Turkey approved a controversial law in 2022 criminalizing the spreading of information that is “contrary to the truth” about Turkey’s domestic and international security, public order and health with the intent of causing “public worry, fear and panic.” The offense is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Police said they also identified phishing and fake donation websites.

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Turkey’s president is promising to have all debris removed and homes rebuilt within a year in the 10 provinces most affected by this week’s deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the pledge Wednesday in Hatay province, which has so far recorded 3,356 of Turkey’s more than 9,000 earthquake-related deaths. Officials in Syria have reported more than 2,600 deaths from Monday’s quake, taking the overall death toll to over 11,700 as of Wednesday afternoon.

Erdogan acknowledged “shortcomings” in the government’s response to the earthquake, adding that weather had hampered the search and rescue operation. He said “it’s not possible” to prepare for a disaster of such scale and that his government “will not leave any of our citizens uncared for.”

Survivors in Hatay province have said authorities and rescue teams arrived too late to save their loved ones. The rescue efforts, which were complicated by the destruction of Hatay airport’s runway, picked up Tuesday.

Erdogan hit back at his critics, calling them “dishonorable people” who spread “lies and slanders” without bearing witness to the rescue work of police officers and soldiers.

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Global internet monitor Netblocks says multiple internet providers have restricted access to Twitter in Turkey.

An opposition leader, Meral Aksener, took to Twitter on Wednesday to criticize the Turkish government for imposing a restriction “when communication is of such vital importance” to earthquake victims.

The leader of the main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, urged people to use VPN services to bypass the restriction.

Seeking help, Twitter users have posted the assumed locations of people trapped under rubble since Monday’s earthquake.

There was also widespread criticism of police for launching investigations into alleged instances of disinformation and insults on Twitter.

The Turkish government has periodically restricted access to social media during national emergencies and terror attacks, citing national security.

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Egypt’s state-run Al Ahram newspaper is reporting that an Egyptian volunteer team has arrived in quake-hit areas in northwestern Syria from Turkey, while three military cargo aircraft have touched down in Damascus.

The newspaper’s report on Wednesday came after the Turkish chargé d’affaires in Cairo, Saleh Mutlu Shin, said two Egyptian planes ferrying medical aid had arrived in the Turkish city of Adana a day earlier.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said two Egyptian nationals were reported to have died in Turkey’s Hatay province from the earthquake.

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The head of Israel’s military rescue crew in Turkey says his team rescued four people and was working to save two others.

Speaking from the hard-hit Kahramanmaras area, Col. Golan Vach told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a telephone call on Wednesday that “we’re trying our utmost to save lives.”

The Israeli military released video showing a team pulling a person from a pile of rubble and hoisting them onto a stretcher. In a second video, a team extracted a person through a hole in the ceiling of what looked like a building cellar. The rescued person pumped their fist and the team cheered.

The Israeli military has a special search and rescue unit that has been deployed around the world in the wake of natural disasters, including in Haiti, Nepal and Mexico.

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The United Nations’ regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria Crisis says access to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing along the Turkish-Syrian border continues to be impeded, preventing trucks carrying humanitarian aid from reaching people in Syria’s northwest.

Muhannad Hadi said Wednesday that many truck drivers were waiting to pass through the border crossing and that “we are in the business of saving lives.”

Bab al-Hawa is the only crossing through which U.N. aid is allowed into the area.

Millions of Syrians living in the country’s northwest prior to the earthquake relied on humanitarian aid to survive.

The U.N. in Syria is looking to scale up aid to northwestern Syria through Damascus, though critics say it is a slower and less effective route.

Activists and critics have accused the Syrian government of deliberately slowing down aid deliveries to the northwest to stymie support for rebel-held areas.

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A Syrian Cabinet minister says the earthquake has displaced nearly 300,000 people in government-held parts of Syria.

Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf told reporters Wednesday that 180 shelters have been set up in northern Syria to house some of the 298,829 people forced out of their homes.

Makhlouf said Western sanctions were making Syrians suffer by hindering the state’s ability to deal with the earthquake’s repercussions.

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Germany is increasing its humanitarian aid for Syria and Turkey by another 26 million euros ($27.8 million).

A spokeswoman for the German Foreign Office said Wednesday that 25 million euros would go to two United Nations relief funds and 1 million to the German aid group Malteser Hilfsdienst,

The government is also sending relief supplies such as tents, sleeping bags, camp beds, blankets, heaters and generators.

Members of Germany’s military plan to fly around 50 tons of relief supplies to the disaster area on Thursday.

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The Cyprus government says rival Turkey has accepted its offer to send rescuers to help search for survivors trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Demetris Demetriou, told The Associated Press that Cyprus’ offer was made through the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism and that a rescue team of about 20 members was being assembled.

Demetriou said it’s unclear where in Turkey the team would be dispatched. The Foreign Ministry is also coordinating with other agencies to organize a collection of humanitarian aid to Turkey.

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

Demetriou said the urgency for humanitarian aid has superseded the complex politics between Cyprus and Turkey.

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Rescuers used truck-mounted cranes to lift huge concrete slabs from a collapsed high-rise apartment building in the Turkish city of Adana where nearly 60 people are believed to remain trapped.

More than two dozen rescuers were sifting through the debris Wednesday, shouting for silence every few minutes in hope of picking up any voices or sounds from under the rubble.

In one omen of hope, volunteer rescuer Bekir Biger said he uncovered a blue and yellow bird alive inside its crushed cage nearly 60 hours after the building’s collapse.

Onlookers, friends and relatives of the missing sat by makeshift fires awaiting news. One man, Suat Yarkan, said his aunt and two adult daughters were asleep in their fourth floor apartment when the quake struck.

Yarkan said he believes that rescuers will “recover everyone.” He said: “Look at the bird. Sixty hours.”

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Turkey’s disaster management agency says earthquake victims who cannot be identified will be buried within five days. That’s in line with Islamic funeral rites which require that burial take place as quickly as possible.

The AFAD agency said Wednesday the unidentified victims would be interred after undergoing DNA tests, finger printing and being photographed for future identification.

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India says it has dispatched nearly 150 rescuers and sniffer dogs to Turkey and Syria aboard four transport aircraft.

Foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said Wednesday nearly 130 metric tons of relief and medical supplies have been sent to Turkey and 6 metric tons to Syria.

Senior ministry official Sanjay Verma said another 250 rescuers and their equipment are ready to depart at short notice.

Verma also said nearly 3,000 Indian nationals are currently living in Turkey and reports suggest most of them are safe. One Indian on a business trip to Turkey is missing.

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Kosovo has declared a day of mourning for Turkey’s earthquake victims. The Kosovo cabinet and parliament also observed a minute’s silence.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti said Kosovo stands in solidarity with Turkey and will help as much as it can. A Kosovar army rescue team has already been sent to Turkey.

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Pakistan has sent a plane load of humanitarian aid including blankets and tents to Syria.

Pakistan’s National Disaster and Management Authority said the country plans to send more aid to both Syria and Turkey.

Pakistan had earlier dispatched a plane with aid to Turkey, while Pakistani rescue teams and doctors are already in the quake-hit country.

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The European Union says Syria has asked for humanitarian assistance to deal with the victims of the devastating earthquake and insisted sanctions that it has imposed on the Syrian government had no impact on its potential to help.

EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Janez Lenarcic said Wednesday that Syria had asked for anything from search and rescue aid to medicine and food. He said the EU was encouraging its members to contribute and denied that sanctions were affecting the delivery of humanitarian aid.

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German lawmakers stood for a minute of silence to honor the earthquake victims ahead of a speech to parliament by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Scholz said Wednesday that Germany is helping Turkey and was in close contact with the United Nations on getting humanitarian aid to the Syrian earthquake area “because the need is enormous there, too.”

He said that the disaster shows again “how vital this cross-border access is that we have advocated for years.”

The government in Syria, wracked by a 12-year civil war and refugee crisis, has been under European Union sanctions since 2011 for its suppression of the population. The sanctions include the freezing of funds and travel bans on hundreds of people and entities. They are focused on paralyzing sectors of the economy from which the Syrian government profits.

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A volunteer rescue organization known as the White Helmets says six people, including four children, were pulled out of the rubble alive during overnight rescue operations in rebel-held parts of northwest Syria.

In the town of Harem, paramedics were able to communicate with a woman and her son until they were pulled out of a collapsed building. The boy was able to walk but appeared dazed as two paramedics helped him to safety.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has toured a temporary shelter area in the city of Kahramanmaras, where more than 200 tents have been set up on the grounds of a stadium to house earthquake survivors.

He was later scheduled to travel to the quake’s epicenter in the town of Pazarcik and to Turkey’s most affected province, Hatay

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Turkey’s stock exchange stopped trading after circuit breakers were tripped by sharp declines in the benchmark BIST index following Monday’s devastating quake.

The Borsa Istanbul’s public disclosure platform announced the suspension on Wednesday. It said trading in equities, futures and the derivatives markets had been suspended, but gave no further details.

The benchmark had fallen more than 7% earlier in the morning. It sank 8.6% on Tuesday. The catastrophe has added to the country’s woes as it contends with high inflation and an economic downturn.

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A former journalist described seeing the removal of eight bodies from a collapsed building in the Turkish city of Malatya in temperatures dropping to minus 6 degrees Celsius (21 degrees Fahrenheit).

Ozel Pikal told The Associated Press by telephone on Wednesday how the bodies were placed side by side and covered in blankets as rescuers waited for vehicles to take them to morgues. He said he thinks the victims may have frozen to death.

Pikal spoke of “no hope left” in the southeastern city because “no one is coming out alive from the rubble.” He said more than 100 people may be trapped in a collapsed hotel, adding that there was a shortage of “professional” rescue teams in the area he was in.

Pikal said more earth-moving machines are needed because “our hands cannot pick up anything because of the cold.” He said the elderly and children are having a particularly difficult time as residents are staying in tents pitched on ice.

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Rescuers have pulled 10 people out of the rubble alive in the Turkish city of Besni, including four children, Polish officials said.

The commander of the Polish rescue team in the city, Grzegorz Borowiec, said on Polish television channel TVN24 on Wednesday that more than 30 buildings have collapsed in the city of some 37,000 residents.

Borowiec said it crews 12 hours to get through several layers of concrete to pull a woman out alive.

The Polish contingent includes 76 rescuers and eight trained dogs.

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The bodies of more than 100 Syrians who died in Turkey as a result of the earthquake have been brought back home for burial through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing.

Mazen Alloush, an official on the Syrian side of the border, said Wednesday that 20 more bodies were on their way to the border, adding that all of them were Syrian refugees who fled war in their country.

Turkey is home to some 3.6 million Syrian refugees who fled the civil war in their country that broke out 12 years ago.

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Pope Francis is asking for prayers and demonstrations of solidarity for the people of Syria and Turkey following the earthquake there.

Francis led hundreds of people gathered for his weekly general audience Wednesday in reciting the “Hail Mary” prayer. He offered thanks to the rescue workers searching for survivors and the people caring for residents left homeless.

The pope said that his thoughts go now to the people of Turkey and Syria and that it’s “with sadness” that he prays for them, expressing “my closeness to the people, the relatives of victims and all those who are suffering from this devastating calamity.”

Francis also asked for prayers for Ukrainians, particularly those without heat or electricity in frigid temperatures.

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The Mediterranean island nation of Malta is sending a contingent of 32 people and a rescue dog to Turkey to help with rescue efforts following the earthquake.

Malta’s Civil Protection Department is also collecting items from the general public to send as aid. The Maltese Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it would be sending financial support to Syrians affected by the quake via the International Rescue Committee.

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Live Updates | Turkey, Syria quake is deadliest since 2015