Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said a convoy of 14 of its trucks had entered northwestern Syria on Sunday to assist in earthquake rescue operations, as concerns grow over lack of access to the war-ravaged area.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has been pressuring authorities in that region of Syria to stop blocking access as it seeks to help hundreds of thousands of people in the wake of the devastating Feb. 6 quake that hit the region.
Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, WFP Director David Beasley said the Syrian and Turkish governments had been cooperating very well, but that its operations were being hampered in northwestern Syria.
The agency last week said it was running out of stocks there and called for more border crossings to be opened from Turkey.
In Syria, already shattered by more than a decade of civil war, the bulk of fatalities have been in the northwest. The area is controlled by insurgents at war with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad which has complicated efforts to get aid to people.
Meanwhile, rescue efforts in earthquake-hit Turkey were winding down on Sunday, with many praying only for bodies to mourn.
“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.
More than 46,000 people have been killed after the quake struck Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6. The toll is expected to climb, with some 345,000 apartments in Turkey known to have been destroyed and many people still missing.
Neither Turkey nor Syria have said how many people are still unaccounted for.
Orhan Tatar, General Director of Earthquake and Risk Reduction at Turkey’s Disaster Management at AFAD, reiterated on Sunday that the Eastern Anatolian Fault broke apart in five different branches, with 25 kilometres of fractures measured in the province of Malatya alone.
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 one 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,” said Mujdat Erdogan, a member of AFAD, his face and uniform covered in dust. “I don’t think we can rescue people anymore.”
Workers from Kyrgyzstan tried to save a Syrian family 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.
Workers asked for complete silence as the teams climbed to the top of the rubble of the building where the family was found to listen for any more sounds using an electronic detector.
As rescue efforts continued one worker yelled into the rubble: “Take a deep breath if you can hear my voice.”
The World Health Organization estimates that some 26 million people across both Turkey and Syria need humanitarian aid.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to arrive on Sunday in Turkey to discuss how Washington can further assist Ankara as it grapples with the aftermath of its worst natural disaster in modern times.
In Syria, which has reported more than 5,800 deaths, the WFP said authorities in the northwest 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 Syrian fatalities 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 - at least for now.