Hope for earthquake survivors fades as Turkey arrests building developers

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GAZIANTEP, Turkey — The chances of anyone being found alive are fading fast in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Some are holding vigils in makeshift tents, but hopes are fading that more survivors will be pulled from the rubble of the buildings days after two massive earthquakes tore them apart, and a death toll that seems ready to continue growing.

On a block where three buildings collapsed, rescue teams are now focused on recovering bodies. Some women wept in grief for their lost loved ones, but no one wanted to talk when NBC News visited on Sunday, their grief still too raw.

Some 25 miles away, in the town of Atalar, some help arrived on Saturday. The insulation that was brought in on a government truck was quickly dismantled. Residents said some tents arrived earlier in the day, but it wasn’t enough.

Frail from days in the freezing cold, Teslime Karacaliogu said she was sleeping in a car with other families.

Collapsed buildings as search and rescue efforts continue in Hatay, Turkey, on Sunday.Ercin Erturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“I have three orphans with me,” she said, breaking down in tears as she remembered being forced to sleep in the mud one night. She “It was snowing and raining when the earthquake happened. We were freezing when we came out. … It was a terrible day,” she said.

With every hour that passes, the chances of finding survivors grow more remote as the death toll in Turkey and neighboring Syria surpassed 34,000 early Sunday.

The first of Monday’s devastating earthquakes hit Turkey and neighboring Syria in the early hours and registered a magnitude of 7.8. It rated as «major» on the official magnitude calculator. Hours later, a second quake, registering at a magnitude of 7.6, struck nearby.

In the town of Kahramanmaras, near the epicenter, Ersin Nalbantoglue said late Friday that «countless» friends and family members were still missing, and that he had given up hope that more would be brought out alive.

“We are in shock right now,” he said. “I don’t think we realize the magnitude of this disaster. Is incredible. The whole city is gone now.

People pray at the Surp Giragos Armenian Church in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on February 12, 2023.
People pray at the Surp Giragos Armenian church in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on Sunday.Bestami Bodruk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As the commotion subsides, some have expressed frustration that rescue operations have been slow to proceed and valuable time has been lost during the narrow window to find people alive beneath the rubble.

Anger over the extent of the destruction is not limited to individuals, however, and authorities have been detaining or issuing arrest warrants for dozens of people who were allegedly involved in the construction of collapsing buildings.

Vowing to punish those responsible, Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said in a statement posted on Twitter on Sunday that proceedings have been launched against 134 people suspected of being responsible for destroyed buildings.

Farther south in Syria, earthquake aid from government-controlled parts of the country to territory controlled by hardline opposition groups has been delayed, a United Nations spokesman told Reuters on Sunday, adding that the UN continues to «work with relevant parties to gain access to information.» area.»

Martin Griffiths, the UN emergency relief coordinator, tweeted Sunday that the people of northwestern Syria had «failed.»

“No wonder they feel abandoned. Looking for international help that has not arrived, ”she posted. “My duty and our obligation is to correct this failure as quickly as we can. That’s my focus now.»

Gabe Gutiérrez reported from Gaziantep and Leila Sackur from London.

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