Turkey-Syria earthquake: Hope for rescues fading as deaths near 12,000

ITV News Correspondent Emma Murphy reports from Antakya, one of the worst-hit locations in Turkey

Hope of rescuing survivors is fading following the world's deadliest earthquake for more than a decade in south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria.

Monday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake - which has so far killed almost 12,000 people - hit a huge area and brought down thousands of buildings, with freezing temperatures and ongoing aftershocks complicating rescue efforts.

More than 30,000 people have also been injured by the seismic event, and authorities expect the death toll to continue to climb.

The total number of fatalities has now surpassed the 8,800 people killed by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal in 2015, and makes it the deadliest since the 2011 earthquake in Japan.

According to the US Geological Survey, Monday's tremor struck at 4.17am local time (1.17am GMT) - when many people would have been sleeping - at a depth of 17.9km (11 miles) near the Turkish city of Gaziantep.

The earthquake caused many to be trapped alive under rubble. With every hour that passes, hope of rescuing these survivors diminishes.

Turkey’s disaster management agency has said that people who died in the earthquake but cannot be identified would be buried within five days, even if they remained unnamed.

The agency, known as AFAD, said unidentified victims would be buried following DNA tests, finger printing and after being photographed for future identification.

The move is in line with Islamic funeral rites which require a burial to take place as quickly as possible after a person’s death.

On Wednesday, Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, toured a "tent city" in Kahramanmaras, where people who have been forced from their homes are living.

Rescue workers search for survivors on a collapsed building in Malatya, Turkey. Credit: AP

Many other survivors across the country are now sleeping in cars, outside or in government shelters.

President Erdogan conceded shortfalls early on in Turkey's response, but vowed that no-one would "be left in the streets".

He said the government would distribute 10,000 Turkish lira (£439) to affected families.

The quake comes at a sensitive time for President Erdogan, who faces presidential and parliamentary elections in May amid an economic downturn and high inflation.

Turkey now has some 60,000 aid personnel on the ground, but with the devastation so widespread many are still waiting for help.

Displaced families are now contending with freezing weather, ITV News' Rachel Younger reports

Structural engineers, soldiers, paramedics and handlers with trained search dogs are among the volunteers who have made the journey to either of the affected countries.

The UK has sent 77 search and rescue specialists, state-of-the-art equipment and four search dogs to Turkey, and is in contact with the United Nations (UN) about getting support to victims in Syria.

Tremors from the quake have heaped more misery on Syria, a country which is already being ravaged by a 12-year civil war and refugee crisis.

Turkey is home to millions of refugees from the war, with the affected area in Syria divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, where millions rely on humanitarian aid.

As many as 23 million people could be affected in the quake-hit region, according to Adelheid Marschang, a senior emergencies officer with the World Health Organisation (WHO), who called it a "crisis on top of multiple crises".

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Turkey's President Erdogan said 13 million of Turkey's 85 million people have been affected, and has declared a state of emergency in ten provinces.

Some 380,000 people have taken refuge in government shelters or hotels, authorities said.

Erdogan vowed to have all debris removed and homes rebuilt within a year in the 10 provinces of his country most affected by the quake.

It comes an opposition leader, Meral Aksener, took to Twitter on Wednesday to criticise the Turkish government for imposing a restriction on the social media network, “when communication is of such vital importance" to earthquake victims.

Seeking help, Twitter users have been posting the assumed locations of people trapped under rubble since Monday.

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

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to survivors as he visits the city centre in Kahramanmaras. Credit: AP

In Syria, aid efforts have been hampered by the ongoing war and the isolation of the rebel-held region along the border, which is surrounded by Russia-backed government forces.

The UN said it was "exploring all avenues" to get supplies to the rebel-held northwest.

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

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

Aid efforts in Syria have been hampered by the ongoing war, ITV News Correspondent Ian Woods reports

The bodies of more than 100 Syrians who died in Turkey as a result of the earthquake have also 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 on 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.

Pope Francis has joined world leaders and religious figures in offering prayers and support for the people of Syria and Turkey following the earthquake.

The pope said that his thoughts are with the victims 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”.

Rescuers search through the rubble in the town of Harem near the Turkish border, in the Idlib province, Syria. Credit: AP

EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said the EU was encouraging its members to contribute and denied that sanctions were affecting the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Pakistan, Kosovo, Malta, India were among those sending international rescue teams, equipment and aid to help the rescue efforts in both Turkey and Syria.

Meanwhile, Cyprus' government said its rival Turkey has accepted an offer of help, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Demetris Demetriou saying the urgency for humanitarian aid has superseded the complex politics between the countries.