Turkey’s president faced growing anger yesterday over the slow response to the deadly earthquakes, as he insisted it was ‘not possible’ to prepare for the disaster.
Rescuers continued to battle to find survivors but warned hopes were fading for those who have now been trapped inside collapsed buildings for more than 72 hours.
Amid the despair – and rising anger at Turkey’s authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdogan – dramatic rescues provided moments of hope, including an entire family of six pulled from the wreckage of their home. Two girls and a boy were brought to safety by rescuers from the White Helmets group in Idlib, Syria, to jubilant cheers from a large crowd which had gathered around the toppled building.
Three adults were also carried out and taken to an ambulance by the rescue group, which warned it faced a ‘race against time’ to save other survivors.
In the Turkish city of Hatay, an eight-year-old boy was rescued after he was trapped alone inside a collapsed building for 52 hours.
Two girls (one girl pictured) and a boy were brought to safety by rescuers from the White Helmets group in Idlib, Syria
The brother (pictured) of the two girls was also pulled out from the rubble by rescuers
Rescuers passed Yigit Cakmak straight into the arms of his anguished mother, who embraced the distraught boy.
Elsewhere in Turkey, rescuers fed sips of water from a bottle cap to a little boy trapped for 45 hours under a huge concrete slab.
Syrian refugee Muhammed Ahmed was pinned under the concrete and caked in dust, but managed to smile at his saviours as they used the cap from a plastic bottle to drip water into his mouth until he could be freed.
Almost 12,000 people are now known to have died in Turkey and Syria since Monday’s powerful earthquakes, with many thousands more still missing.
Families have said they can hear their relatives calling from inside collapsed buildings, but are powerless to reach them.
In the Turkish city of Malatya, Sabiha Alinak said she had young relatives trapped inside a collapsed apartment building.
She said: ‘Where is the state? Where have they been for two days? We are begging them.’
Journalist Ozel Pikal said he believed survivors were freezing to death as temperatures plunged to -6C (21F). He said: ‘As of today there is no hope left in Malatya. No one is coming out alive.’
The freezing temperatures have also struck survivors who are sleeping in cars or outside.
Pictured: The second daughter rescued to jubilant cheers from a large crowd which had gathered around the toppled building
Three adults, including the children’s father (pictured) were also carried out and taken to an ambulance by the rescue group, which warned it faced a ‘race against time’ to save other survivors
President Erdogan visited some of the devastated areas yesterday and rejected criticism of his response. During a visit to Hatay and Kahramanmaras, two of the southern regions worst affected, he told journalists: ‘It is not possible to be prepared for a disaster this big.’
He hit out at critics who said rescuers and security forces had not reached the region, branding them ‘provocateurs’. Mr Erdogan acknowledged rescue efforts had been hampered by damaged roads but insisted his government was overcoming the problems.
There have been reports of arrests for posting criticism on social media. Internet groups said access to Twitter had been blocked in an apparent attempt to limit public criticism. The government has previously restricted social media following disasters, terror attacks and protests.
Opposition politicians condemned the move as ‘insane’ at a time when survivors were relying on social media to find relatives, aid and shelter.
Activist and lawyer Ali Gul accused the government of delaying aid efforts, adding: ‘You are killing people on purpose.’ Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition, said: ‘If there is anyone responsible for this process, it is Erdogan. It is this ruling party that has not prepared the country for an earthquake for 20 years.’
International rescue teams include a 77-strong team from Britain, which arrived with rescue dogs and state-of-the-art equipment. But there have been warnings that help is not reaching Syria, already scarred by civil war.
Experts warned it was critical to reach survivors within 72 hours, before crush injuries, blood loss, dehydration, hunger and exposure to freezing temperatures became critical.
Ilan Kelman, professor of disasters and health at University College London, said the survival window was ‘rapidly closing’.