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Crews find survivors, many dead after quake hits Turkey and Syria


GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Thinly stretched rescue teams worked through the night on Wednesday to pull more bodies from the rubble of thousands of buildings brought down in Turkey and Syria by a catastrophic earthquake that killed more than 7,700 people. Their grim task was occasionally interrupted by the joy of finding someone still alive.

Almost two days after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, rescuers pulled a three-year-old boy, Arif Kaan, from under the rubble of a collapsed apartment building in Kahramanmaras, a town not far from the epicenter.

With the boy’s lower body trapped under slabs of concrete and twisted rebar, emergency crews draped a blanket over his torso to protect him from freezing temperatures as they carefully cut the debris away from him, aware of the possibility of another collapse.

The boy’s father, Ertugrul Kisi, who had been rescued himself earlier, sobbed as his son was pulled free and loaded into an ambulance.

“For now, the name of hope in Kahramanmaras is Arif Kaan,” proclaimed a Turkish television reporter as the dramatic rescue was broadcast to the country.

A few hours later, rescuers pulled 10-year-old Betul Edis from the rubble of her home in Adiyaman city. To the applause of onlookers, her grandfather kissed her and spoke softly to her as she was loaded into an ambulance.

But such stories came just two days after Monday’s predawn earthquake, which struck a huge area and knocked down thousands of buildings, with frigid temperatures and lingering aftershocks hampering rescue efforts.

Search teams from more than two dozen countries joined more than 24,000 Turkish aid workers and pledges for help poured in.

But as the devastation spread to multiple towns and villages – some isolated by the ongoing conflict in Syria – the crying voices from the ruins fell silent, and desperation grew among those still waiting for help.

In Syria, the quakes toppled thousands of buildings and added further distress to a region ravaged by the country’s 12-year civil war and refugee crisis.

In a northwestern Syrian town, residents found a crying newborn still connected by umbilical cord to her deceased mother on Monday afternoon. The baby was the only member of her family to survive a building collapse in the small town of Jinderis, relatives told The Associated Press.

Turkey is home to millions of refugees from the war. The affected area in Syria is split between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-controlled enclave, where millions depend on humanitarian aid.

As many as 23 million people could be affected in the earthquake-hit area, according to Adelheid Marschang, a senior emergency response officer at the World Health Organization, who called it a “crisis on top of multiple crises.”

Many survivors in Turkey have had to sleep in cars, outside or in government shelters.

“We don’t have a tent, we don’t have a heater, we don’t have anything. Our children are in bad shape. We all get wet from the rain and our kids are out in the cold,” 27-year-old Aysan Kurt told the AP. “We didn’t die of hunger or earthquake, but we will die of cold.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 13 million of the country’s 85 million people have been affected, and declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces. More than 8,000 people have been pulled from the rubble in Turkey and some 380,000 have sought refuge in government shelters or hotels, authorities said.

In Syria, aid efforts have been hampered by the ongoing war and the isolation of the rebel-held territory along the border, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Syria itself is an international pariah under Western sanctions related to the war.

The United Nations said it was “examining all avenues” to get supplies for the rebel-held northwest.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktoy said at least 5,894 people were killed by the earthquake in Turkey, with another 34,810 injured.

The death toll in government-controlled areas of Syria has risen to 812, with about 1,400 injured, according to the Health Ministry. At least 1,020 people have been killed in the rebel-held northwest, according to volunteer first responders known as the White Helmets, with more than 2,300 injured.

The region lies on top of major fault lines and is regularly rocked by earthquakes. About 18,000 were killed in similarly powerful earthquakes that struck northwestern Turkey in 1999.

Alsayed reported from Azmarin, Syria. Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. David Rising in Bangkok and Robert Badendieck in Istanbul contributed to this story.

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