Exhausted rescue crews in Turkey and Syria looked for signs of life in the wreckage of thousands of buildings that a devastating earthquake had destroyed on Wednesday. The deadliest earthquake in the globe in more than a decade has claimed over 11,000 confirmed lives.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, visited a “tent city” in the hard-hit Karamanmaras region where people who had been evicted from their homes were residing.
Erdogan acknowledged initial shortcomings in the reaction to Monday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake but said no one would “be left in the streets” despite requests for his government to deploy more aid to the disaster area.
Search teams from more than two dozen countries have joined thousands of local emergency personnel in Syria and Turkey.
But the scale of destruction from the earthquake and its powerful aftershocks was so immense and spread over such a wide area, including places isolated by Syria’s ongoing civil war, that many people were still awaiting help.
Experts said the survival window for those trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings or otherwise unable to access water, food, protection from the elements, or medical attention was closing rapidly. At the same time, they said it was too soon to abandon hope for more rescues.
“The first 72 hours are considered essential,” says Steven Godby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University in England, “since the condition of persons trapped and injured can worsen swiftly and become fatal if they are not rescued and given medical attention in time.”
When searching for survivors or the dead, rescuers occasionally employed excavators and, at other times, carefully dug through the debris. There were thousands of collapsed structures, so it was unclear how many people might still be trapped beneath them.
The bodies of those who perished in the earthquake but could not be identified will be buried within five days, according to a statement from Turkey’s disaster management agency on Wednesday.
Unidentified victims would be buried after DNA tests, fingerprints, and after being photographed for potential identification, according to the organization known as AFAD.
The action is in keeping with Islamic funeral customs, which call for burial to happen as soon as possible after a person passes away.
According to retired journalist Ozel Pikal, who saw eight bodies rescued from the wreckage of a building in the Turkish city of Malatya, bodies were placed side by side on the ground and wrapped in blankets while rescuers waited for funeral trucks to pick them up.