Turkey’s president has admitted there are “flaws” in his country’s response to the devastating earthquake that killed over 19,800 people.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces growing criticism from families frustrated by a slow response from rescue teams as hope dwindles more survivors will be found.
Many Turks have complained of a lack of equipment, expertise and support to help those trapped – leaving them helpless when they hear screams from under the rubble.
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During a visit to Hatay province, where more than 3,300 people died and entire neighborhoods were destroyed, Erdogan said: “It is not possible to be prepared for such a disaster. We will not neglect any of our citizens.”
Similar problems are being reported from neighboring Syria, with the country’s UN ambassador acknowledging that the government faces a “lack of skills and equipment”.
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In Turkey and Syria, many people in areas hardest hit by the 7.8-magnitude quake – and subsequent aftershocks – are afraid to go back inside.
“We survived the earthquake, but we will die here of hunger and cold,” said a man in the Turkish city of Antakya.
Some survivors are still being found – with footage showing a young girl in pajamas and an elderly man holding an unlit cigarette between his fingers and being lifted from the rubble.
The chances of survival decrease
According to experts, the window of survival for those trapped is now rapidly closing – but it is still too early to give up all hope.
Natural hazards expert Steven Godby said: “The average survival rate is 74% at 24 hours, 22% at 72 hours and 6% by the fifth day.”
David Alexander, Professor of Emergency Planning and Management at University College London, said: “Statistically, today is the day we’re going to stop finding people. That doesn’t mean we should stop looking.”
He went on to warn that the final death toll may not be known for many weeks due to the sheer volume of debris spanning Turkey and Syria.
“Our hands cannot lift anything”
While some rescue teams have access to excavators, others have little choice but to use their bare hands.
Ozel Pikal, who was assisting with search efforts in the Turkish city of Malatya, fears some of those trapped may have frozen to death after temperatures dropped to -6C.
“To this day there is no hope in Malatya. No one gets out of the rubble alive,” he said.
Mr Pikal warned damage to local roads – and a shortage of rescuers – was intensifying attempts to save people.
He added: “Our hands cannot grip anything because of the cold. Working machines are needed.”
Erdogan strikes back at critics
Turkey’s President has pledged that the government will distribute 10,000 Turkish liras (£440) to families affected by the earthquake.
The natural disaster comes at a testing time for Mr Erdoganwhich faces an already challenging election campaign in May – fueled by high inflation and an economic downturn.
Speaking to reporters, he slammed those who spread “lies and slander” about his government’s actions – saying it was a time of unity and solidarity.
“I can’t stand people running negative campaigns for political interests,” he added.
Police in Turkey have been trying to crack down on misinformation surrounding the earthquake response, arresting 18 people and identifying over 200 accounts accused of “spreading fear and panic”.
Some internet service providers in the country have also restricted access to Twitter – affecting trapped survivors who have used the social network to alert rescuers and their families.
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The Turkish government is known to temporarily limit access to social media during national emergencies and terrorist attacks – and Twitter owner Elon Musk said: “We’re trying to understand more.”