USA TODAY- Desperation and loss were growing Tuesday as frantic rescue workers continue their increasingly futile efforts to recover survivors trapped by the devastating earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the death toll in Turkey from last week’s earthquake increased to 35,418; Syrian officials have said at least 5,800 have died there.
Rescue worker Salam Aldeen spent a week digging through the rubble in Antakya, Turkey, about 40 miles south of the coastal city of Iskenderun in a region of about 500,000 people.
Speaking with USA TODAY from a car leaving the city after a week of rescues, Aldeen said international aid groups are helping desperate Turkish rescue teams working around the clock.
“I have never seen so much death and so many dead bodies in my entire life,” he said, crying as he spoke. “The conditions are like in an Armageddon movie; it’s unbelievable. The whole city smells of dead people.”
He said he helped free four people, including a boy found alive Monday, and recovered 35 bodies.
In a video he shared, red-helmeted fire department workers carefully clear rubble from around the boy, one worker cradling his hand between the metal reinforcing bars embedded in the concrete surrounding him.
Aldeen, the founder of Team Humanity, is a veteran aid and rescue worker who has operated in Greece, Syria, Ukraine and Afghanistan. The magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 quakes struck nine hours apart in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria on Feb. 6.
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- The impact area of the earthquakes that hit southern Turkey and Syria on Monday was equivalent to about twice the entire area of neighboring Lebanon – which covers about 4,000 square miles, according to Lebanese geologist Tony Nemer.
- King Charles met with members of the Syrian and Turkish communities in London, a show of support as they packed aid boxes bound for the earthquake region.
- Turkish authorities said more than 150,000 survivors have been moved to shelters outside the affected provinces.
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Remains of infants, children add to rescue workers’ pain
Aldeen recounted finding a dead man trapped beneath rubble, his body cradling a blanket-swaddled infant who also died. In another instance, he said, a woman escaped out a door when a collapse began but lost her husband and two children.
“Her husband, he was holding each child in a hand. When I found them, when I saw the first body, I was begging that it was not them, that I would find them alive,” Aldeen said, describing how he clambered through the rubble. “He died while he was still holding his children, a child in each hand.”
Aldeen said he and his friends worked nearly 24 hours straight to extricate the bodies, and then he built a fire to keep warm. He and his team lived on crackers and bread for a week, he said, taking occasional naps in their rental car.
“I was watching the bodies in front of me by the fire and I just started crying,” he said. “There are bodies everywhere you walk. And they’re just on the street, bodies.”
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UN: Nearly 9 million Syrians affected by deadly earthquake
Nearly nine million people in Syria have been affected by last week’s deadly earthquake, according to the United Nations.
As the organization launched a funding appeal on Tuesday, it said humanitarian agencies will need almost $400 million to respond to “the most pressing humanitarian needs” over the next three months.
“This is a crisis of colossal proportions, one which will be a true litmus test for global generosity, solidarity and diplomacy,” said Martin Griffiths, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, after visiting Syria and Turkey.
The funding will be needed to provide shelter, health care, food, water, sanitation, education, nutrition and protection services, the UN said. It also added that funds will be used to repair basic services such as lighting, water and sanitation, agriculture and education as well as create new supply chains.
The UN also hopes the funds will create jobs for residents who want to help move debris.
Griffiths also tweeted Tuesday that 11 UN trucks have just gone through the newly opened Syria-Turkey border crossing of Bab al-Salam. The organization said the vehicles are carrying blankets, gas cans and mattresses.
The UN also said 58 trucks crossed from Turkey to northwest Syria through the Bab al Hawa crossing point in the last five days carrying aid ranging from food and tents to cholera testing kits.
Rescuers still hear voices underneath the rubble
More than a week later, search teams say they are still hearing voices from under the rubble, offering some hope that more earthquake victims may be alive.
Several people were pulled from the debris in Southern Turkey Tuesday, CNN reported.
Among those rescued was a 35-year-old woman who was believed to have been buried for more than 200 hours in the Kahramanmaraş region, citing state broadcaster TRT Haber. It is also believed that the woman’s husband was also pulled from the rubble, the networks reported.
Also two brothers, a 21-year-old and a 17-year-old, were pulled from collapsed buildings on Tuesday, the Turkish state broadcaster said.