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A week after the quakes, many survivors in Turkey and Syria are still waiting for aid


Thousands of rescue operations are underway across southern Turkey and northern Syria as workers race against the clock in their search for survivors, one week after a pair of devastating earthquakes tore through the region.

The death toll surpassed 36,000 Monday, and calls for justice for the victims grew louder, particularly in Syria, where hardly any aid arrived until several days after the disaster. Humanitarian groups say the delay severely hampered rescuers’ abilities to pull people out of the rubble alive; even now, Syrians are waiting for the kind of heavy machinery and specialized tools available on the Turkish side of the border.

Hundreds of thousands of people in both countries are injured or homeless, with many living in makeshift tents or in their cars. There are growing reports of looting and insecurity in some of the hardest-hit areas, deepening the sense of desperation among survivors.

On a visit to Aleppo, Syria, on Monday, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said “the rescue phase,” consisting of “dragging live people out from the rubble and finding those who died in the rubble,” is “coming to a close.”

He lamented the destruction in Aleppo, a city already gutted by years of airstrikes and street fighting. “I had hoped that Aleppo, being further from the earthquakes, would have suffered less, but it hasn’t,” he said. “Aleppo’s pain is visible to all.”

“Now, the humanitarian phase — the urgency of providing shelter, psychosocial care, food, schooling and a sense of the future for these people, that’s our obligation now,” he continued.

For those who worked round-the-clock in rebel-held Syria with limited resources, messages of increased relief were seen as “too little, too late,” Raed al-Saleh, head of the Syrian Civil Defense Forces, also known as the White Helmets, said Sunday, as Griffiths visited the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. “Countless lives have been needlessly lost,” he said in a statement.

The rebel-run Salvation Government’s Health Ministry has reported 3,160 deaths; 1,414 people have died in government-controlled parts of Syria, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).

Successful rescue operations continued Monday against difficult odds in Turkey. Among those pulled out alive was a 72-year-old man rescued from the remains of a three-story building in Hatay’s Antakya district, Turkish media reported. And rescuers were reportedly still attempting Monday afternoon to reach a family of three — a newborn baby, her mother and her grandmother — who were trapped in Kahramanmaras. Experts have marveled at the ability of survivors to hold on for so long without food or water.

Aid workers in Syria have lamented that such operations are exponentially harder for them without access to equipment that can help identify people under the rubble and extract them safely. The crisis has been worsened by the fact many of those impacted in Syria had already been displaced, some several times, over the course of the country’s brutal civil war.

Fadi al-Halabi, a cinematographer for the Oscar-winning documentary “The White Helmets,” said 13 members of his family died. “My family is gone,” he wrote on Facebook, sharing photos of children posing at a picnic by the ocean.

The United Nations has acknowledged “troubles” in its early aid efforts in Syria.

U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, speaking after a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, said he was “pleased to hear reassurances from the Syrian government that they will support us in the work that we are doing all over Syria” — a reference to reports that U.N. efforts to deliver aid have been held up by factional infighting in the country. “Of course, this can’t really fix all the troubles we had at the very beginning. But now, support is coming in,” Pedersen said.

A total of 52 U.N. trucks hauling relief supplies entered Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing from Thursday through Monday, a U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman, Madevi Sun-Suon, said by email. Other aid is reaching Turkey from countries including Indonesia and Iran.

Hatay Airport, near the damaged city of Antyaka, reopened for some flights after damage from the earthquakes was repaired, adding a key port for aid deliveries and evacuations. Airmen in uniform were seen unloading a small mountain of cardboard boxes containing mattresses and blankets Sunday night, footage on Turkey’s TRT World broadcaster showed.

As aid groups shift their focus from rescue to the long-term response, there are concerns that disease could spread easily among the displaced. Vaccines are among the supplies being sent to the disaster zone, but the health-care systems in both countries are under severe strain.

With dozens of hospitals and health facilities damaged in the two countries, the World Health Organization is appealing for more than $42 million in urgent aid.

Turkish officials have said earthquake recovery could cost as much as $50 billion; others have put the estimates much higher.

O’Grady reported from Cairo, Kasulis Cho from Seoul and Timsit from London.

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.