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Death toll in Turkey, Syria earthquake passes 15,000


GAZIANTEP, Turkey — The death toll from the catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria has risen to more than 15,000 as more bodies were pulled from the rubble of collapsed houses in the stricken area, Turkey’s disaster relief agency said Thursday.

The agency said 12,391 people died in Turkey following Monday morning’s earthquake and a series of aftershocks that sent thousands of buildings collapsed in southeastern Turkey.

On the other side of the border in Syria, another 2,902 people are said to have died.

Rescuers continued to pull living people from the damaged buildings, but hopes began to fade amid freezing temperatures more than three full days since the quake hit.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the particularly hard-hit Hatay province on Wednesday, where residents have criticized the government’s efforts and say rescuers have been slow to arrive.

Erdogan, who faces an uphill battle for re-election in May, responded to mounting frustration by acknowledging problems with relief efforts following Monday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake, but said winter weather was a factor. The earthquake also destroyed the runway at Hatay airport, further disrupting the response.

“It is impossible to be prepared for such a disaster,” Erdogan said. “We leave none of our citizens unconcerned.” He also hit back at critics, saying “dishonorable people” spread “lies and slander” about the government’s actions.

Teams from more than two dozen countries have joined tens of thousands of local aid workers in the effort. But the extent of the devastation from the earthquake and its powerful aftershocks was so immense and spread over such a large area that many people were still waiting for help.

Experts said the survival window for those trapped under the rubble or otherwise unable to meet their basic needs is closing quickly. At the same time, they said it was too early to give up hope.

“The first 72 hours are considered critical,” said Steven Godby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University in England. “The survival rate averages 74% within 24 hours, 22% after 72 hours and 6% on the fifth day.”

Alsayed reported from Bab al-Hawa, Syria. Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul. Associated Press journalists David Rising in Bangkok and Robert Badendieck in Istanbul contributed.

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