'My mother died in front of my eyes': Survivors criticise Turkey earthquake response

One week on from the devastating earthquake and hopes of finding more survivors are quickly fading, as ITV News' Emma Murphy reports

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is coming under increased scrutiny from survivors of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake which rocked both Turkey and Syria last week.

President Erdogan has insisted rescue efforts are ongoing in all of the Turkish regions affected by last Monday's quake, despite previously acknowledging shortcomings in the government's response.

One man, whose mother survived the initial quake but later died buried underneath the rubble, has criticised the speed of Turkey's response.

Zafer Mahmut Boncuk's 75-year-old mother survived after their Antakya apartment building collapsed, but she remained trapped under the wreckage.

Despite searching for someone to help him free her, no-one came. She died on Tuesday, the day after the quake.

Like others in Turkey, his sorrow and disbelief have now turned to rage over the sense there has been an unfair and ineffective response to the disaster, which has killed tens of thousands of people.

The death toll topped 36,000 on Monday afternoon. In Turkey alone, more than 31,000 people are dead, CNN reports.

The remains of Mr Boncuk's mother were finally removed on Sunday, nearly a week after the building collapsed. His father's body is still in the rubble.

"What would happen if it was your own mother, dear Recep Tayyip Erdogan? What happened to being a world leader? Where are you? Where?" he said.

"I gave her water to drink, I cleared her face of rubble. I told her that I would save her. But I failed.

"The last time we spoke, I asked if I should help her drink some water. She said no, so I rubbed some water on her lips. Ten minutes later, she died."

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He blamed "ignorance and lack of information and care - that’s why my mother died in front of my eyes".

Many residents in Turkey have expressed similar frustrations over the speed of rescue operations in the wake of the quake, with a view that valuable time was lost during the narrow window for finding survivors.

In the south-eastern town of Adiyaman, Elif Busra Ozturk, said she waited for three days outside the wreckage of a building where her uncle and aunt were trapped and are now believed to be dead.

"There were so few rescue teams that they could only intervene in places they were sure there were people alive," she said.

As hopes of finding more survivors continue to fade, Turkey has detained or issued arrest warrants for people allegedly involved in the construction of buildings, which collapsed during the seismic event.

Anger is also growing Syria where the World Health Organisation (WHO) called the disaster an "unfolding tragedy that’s affecting millions".

Hopes of finding more survivors of the earthquake are dwindling. Credit: AP

"The compounding crises of conflict, Covid, cholera, economic decline, and now the earthquake have taken an unbearable toll," WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations (UN) has acknowledged an international failure to help Syrian quake victims.

Last week's event devastated northwestern Syria, a rebel held enclave which has been targeted by government backed airstrikes during a 12-year long civil war.

Northwest Syria relies almost entirely on aid for survival, but post-quake international assistance has been slow to reach the area. The first UN convoy to arrive from Turkey was on Thursday.

Aid sent by the UN from Turkey to Syria is only authorised to enter via the Bab al-Hawa crossing - on the Turkey-Syria border - and logistics have been complicated by damaged roads.

While international aid can also be sent from Syrian government to rebel-held areas in the northwest, that route brings its own set of hurdles.

Critics of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad say aid funneled through government-held areas faces bureaucracy and the risk that authorities will misappropriate or divert the aid to support people close to the government.