Turkey-Syria earthquake: Death toll passes 20,700 as survivors are left in 'horrific conditions'

Those whose homes have been destroyed are left stranded in the plummeting temperatures, ITV News' Emma Murphy reports from Turkey

More survivors were rescued from beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings in Turkey and Syria on Thursday following Monday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake and a series of aftershocks.

The death toll is said to have risen to 20,700 on Thursday, making it one of the world's deadliest earthquakes in more than a decade.

Now the struggle is to survive the aftermath, as those whose homes have been destroyed are left stranded in the plummeting temperatures.

WHO's incident response manager Robert Holden said a lot of people are surviving “out in the open, in worsening and horrific conditions."

"We’ve got major disruptions to basic water supplies, we’ve got major disruption to fuel, electricity supplies, communication supplies, the basics of life,” he said.

“We are in real danger of seeing a secondary disaster which may cause harm to more people than the initial disaster.”

People warm up with fire in front of destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey

In the Turkish city of Malatya former journalist Ozel Pikal, who took part in the rescue efforts, said he thinks at least some of the victims froze to death as temperatures dipped to minus 6C.

“As of today, there is no hope left in Malatya,” Pikal said by telephone. “No one is coming out alive from the rubble.”Road closures and damage in the region made it hard to access all the areas that need help, he said, and there was a shortage of rescuers where he was.

“Our hands cannot pick up anything because of the cold,” Pikal said. “Work machines are needed.”

According to the disaster management agency, more than 110,000 rescue personnel were now taking part in the effort and more than 5,500 vehicles, including tractors, cranes, bulldozers and excavators had been shipped.

The task is monumental, however, with thousands of buildings toppled by the earthquake.

Many have been forced to sleep in tents in -11 degree weather, as ITV News' Rachel Younger reports

Meanwhile, the president of Turkey acknowledged “shortcomings” in his country's response to the world’s deadliest earthquake in more than a decade.

He is to visit the badly-hit areas of Gaziantep, Osmaniye and Kilis on Thursday, amid ongoing criticism that the government’s response has been too slow.

Residents of Hatay, where more than 3,300 people died and entire neighbourhoods were destroyed, criticised the government's efforts, saying rescuers were slow to arrive.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to survivors as he visits the city center destroyed by Monday earthquake in Kahramanmaras Credit: AP

Erdogan hit back at critics, saying: “It is not possible to be prepared for such a disaster.

“We will not leave any of our citizens uncared for.”

He added, "dishonourable people" were spreading “lies and slander” about the government's actions.

Speaking as he visited several disaster zones on Wednesday, Erdogan vowed to take “every necessary step” and unite the state and nation so that “we will not leave any citizen unattended.”

He has said the government will give 10,000 Turkish lira (£438) to affected families.

Volunteers distribute aid to people in Antakya, southern Turkey Credit: AP

Getting aid to those impacted in Syria has been difficult, as crossings have remained shut for years. This is made worse because entries along the border were destroyed due to the disaster.

For the first time since the earthquake, six UN trucks carrying shelter items and aid, crossed through the Bab Al Hawa crossing – the only humanitarian aid corridor between Turkey and Syria.

Some 4.1 million people already depend on humanitarian aid in mostly rebel-held northwest Syria.

For years, the people of Aleppo faced bombardment and fighting when their city was among the civil war’s fiercest battle zones.

But that did not prepare them for the new devastation and terror wreaked by this week’s earthquake.

Hovig Shehrian spent years fleeing from neighbourhood to neighbourhood to avoid the front-line area because of the shelling and sniper fire.

He said: "It was part of our daily routine. Whenever we heard a sound, we left, we knew who to call and what to do,” the 24-year-old said.

“But … we didn’t know what to do with the earthquake. I was worried we were going to die.”

Many are too scared to return home, even if their building was not destroyed and instead are sheltering in schools.

A Maronite Christian monastery took in more than 800 people, particularly women, children and the elderly, crammed into every room.

“Until now we are not sleeping in our homes. Some people are sleeping in their cars,” said Imad al-Khal, the secretary-general of Christian denominations in Aleppo, who was helping organise shelters.

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