Turkey winds down earthquake rescue efforts in all but two areas

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Rescue efforts in earthquake-hit Turkey have been wound down in all but two areas, officials confirmed on Sunday.

The country’s disaster agency said that searches would only continue in the regions Kahramanmaras and Hatay less than two weeks after a massive earthquake killed tens of thousands of people.

Kahramanmaras was the epicentre of the earthquake, which struck large swathes of Turkey and Syria on February 6. More than 46,000 people were killed in the country’s deadliest disaster in the modern era.

The toll is expected to climb, with some 345,000 apartments in Turkey now known to have been destroyed and many people still missing.

Many survivors are praying only for bodies to mourn.

"In many of our provinces, search and rescue efforts have been completed," the disaster agency's chief, Yunus Sezer, told reporters in the capital Ankara.

But he said that search and rescue efforts would continue at 40 buildings in Kahramanmaras and Hatay.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived in Turkey on Sunday and announced £83m in international aid.

He said the new aid "will be moving soon” but that “it's less about search and rescue but long-term recovery”.

“This is going to be a long-term effort,” he added.

Collapsed buildings in the city of Antakya. (AFP via Getty Images)
Collapsed buildings in the city of Antakya. (AFP via Getty Images)

“Would you pray to find a dead body? We do ... to deliver the body to the family,” said bulldozer operator Akin Bozkurt as his machine clawed at the rubble of a destroyed building in the town of Kahramanmaras.

“You recover a body from under tonnes of rubble. Families are waiting with hope,” Bozkurt said. “They want to have a burial ceremony. They want a grave.”

According to Islamic tradition, the dead should be buried as quickly as possible.

The head of Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), Yunus Sezer, said the search and rescue efforts would largely end on Sunday night.

Neither Turkey nor Syria have said how many people are still unaccounted for following the quake.

People warm up next to a fire as they take a break from working on removing rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras (AFP via Getty Images)
People warm up next to a fire as they take a break from working on removing rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras (AFP via Getty Images)

In one of the last efforts to pull people out of the rubble 12 days after the earthquake, emergency teams on Saturday night began clearing debris with their hands at a rescue site in Antakya.

Search dogs and thermal cameras had detected signs of life from two people, rescuers said, but just after midnight, eight hours into the operation, the teams called off the rescue.

“No one is alive,” one rescuer said.

“I don’t think we can rescue people anymore.”

Workers from Kyrgyzstan tried to save a Syrian family of five from the rubble of a building in Antakya in southern Turkey.

Three people, including a child, were rescued alive. The mother and father survived, but the child died later of dehydration, the rescue team said. An older sister and a twin did not make it.

“We heard shouts when we were digging today an hour ago. When we find people who are alive we are always happy,” Atay Osmanov, a member of the rescue team, told Reuters.

The World Health Organization estimates that some 26 million people across both Turkey and Syria need humanitarian aid.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to arrive on Sunday in Turkey to discuss how Washington can further assist Ankara.

Syria has reported more than 5,800 deaths but the number is likely to be far greater.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) authorities in the northwest of the country were blocking access to the area.

“That is bottlenecking our operations. That has to get fixed straight away,” WFP Director David Beasley told Reuters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

The bulk of fatalities in Syria are in the northwest, an area controlled by insurgents at war with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

“Time is running out and we are running out of money. Our operation is about $50 million a month for our earthquake response alone, so unless Europe wants a new wave of refugees, we need to get the support we need,” Beasley added.

Thousands of Syrians who had sought refuge in Turkey from the civil war have returned to their homes in the war zone.