Story by Nadeem Badshah (now); Jon Henley and Martin Belam (earlier)
LIVE – Updated at 20:56
Number of people killed in Turkey and Syria expected to keep rising; Turkish president says he ‘cannot stomach’ criticism.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said the loss of life in the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria has been “truly staggering, shocking”.
The US has deployed more than 150 search and rescue personnel to Turkey, he said.
Blinken added Washington will have more to say in days ahead about how the US will continue to support the Turkish and Syrian people.
Earthquake death toll surpasses 12,000
The number of people killed in Turkey and Syria after the earthquakes has risen to at least 12,049.
Syria’s civil defence said at least 2,992 people had been killed in north-west Syria. It said there were more than 2,850 injured.
Earlier, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, said the toll in his country had risen to 9,057.
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) will launch an appeal on Thursday to raise urgent funds to help people affected by the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria which have killed more than 12,000 people.
The DEC brings together 15 leading aid charities at times of crisis overseas. Fourteen of these are responding in Turkey and Syria including British Red Cross, ActionAid and Save the Children.
Salah Aboulegasem, an aid worker for Islamic Relief in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, said colleagues have told him there is a shortage of body bags in Syria.
He told Sky News: “The difference between Turkey and Syria is that in Turkey there’s a co-ordinated effort to have the search and rescue – whereas in Syria, this doesn’t exist.”
The aid worker added that the situation in Syria was already tough.
“It’s been 13 years of war, there are already a million refugees on that border. These are the coldest months – all of this has made the situation more challenging than it is.
“This is not something that will end tomorrow, this is something that will go on for a long time.”
Istanbul’s stock exchange operator suspended trading for five days until 15 February in an unprecedented step and cancelled all trades from Wednesday in the wake of the earthquakes.
Turkey’s Borsa Istanbul suspended trading on its equity and derivatives markets within minutes of opening after market-wide circuit breakers stopped the slide in the main index at 7%.
The country’s benchmark index fell as much as 16% from its Friday close before the Wednesday trades were cancelled.
“Due to the increase in volatility and extraordinary price movements after the earthquake disaster; in order to ensure the reliable, transparent, efficient, stable, fair and competitive functioning of the markets, equity market and equity and index derivatives in the derivatives market have been closed,” Borsa Istanbul’s statement said.
“Considering the low transaction volume that does not allow efficient price formation, all trades executed in the closed markets on 8 February 2023 will be cancelled.”
“Rescue workers in Kahramanmaraş said they could smell corpses as they dug through piles of debris in the centre of a town now so devastated by the earthquake and its aftershocks that many buildings have been reduced entirely to rubble,” write Ruth Michaelson, Lorenzo Tondo and Deniz Barış Narlı.
“We hope there are two people still alive under there,” said Zafer Yildiz, a volunteer, pointing towards a pile of concrete, twisted metal and furniture. “Most of the people we found under the rubble were dead,” he said.
Mehmet Boskert carefully extracted a prayer book from the remains of a multistorey building, as he dug with gloved hands in the hope of finding his brother and sister-in-law alive.
“After I managed to dig myself out from the rubble when my house collapsed, I came here to try to find them,” he said. “I can only hope, but it seems too late. The emergency teams arrived too late, and only today did they bring these diggers. I hope they can do something.”
The energy firm E.ON has said the earthquake in southern Turkey has affected the supply area of the local power grid operator Enerjisa Enerji, of which it owns 40%, adding that repair work is under way.
“We are dismayed and saddened by the two major earthquakes in Turkey and Syria … they not only caused great human suffering and many deaths and injuries, but also massive damage to the infrastructure,” an E.ON spokesperson said in emailed comments.
“The supply area of our Turkish joint venture Enerjisa is also affected,” the spokesperson said, adding that the company mourned the loss of four employees, while others were wounded, some in a critical condition.
Turkey is working on opening two more border gates with Syria to enable the flow of humanitarian aid to the neighbouring country, its foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said.
Speaking to reporters, Çavuşoğlu said damage on the Syria side of the road leading to Cilvegözü border gate, solely open for humanitarian aid as part of United Nations security council authorisation, was causing difficulties in quake response.
“There are some difficulties in terms of Turkey’s and the international community’s aid [reaching Syria]. For this reason, efforts are being made to open two more border gates,” Çavuşoğlu said.
The Turkish carrier Pegasus Airlines has released the following statement:
“We continue to support those affected and to assist the work of aid organisations. Additional flights are being operated to and from earthquake-affected zones.
“We are continuing our efforts in coordination with AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency) and official aid authorities to deliver aid and emergency supplies to the regions and evacuate those who are affected.
“Between 6 February and 8 February 2023 at 07:00 (local time), we operated a total of 22 relief flights, and 86 civilian passenger flights.
“To support those affected by the earthquake, all Pegasus Airlines direct domestic flights departing from Adana, Diyarbakır, Elazığ, Gaziantep, Kayseri, Malatya and Şanlıurfa between 7-12 February 2023 (up to and including) can be booked free of charge (no taxes payable).”
The airline added: “To support those affected by the earthquake, we have donated 5 million TL to AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency). We have also donated 3 million TL to the Ahbap Association on behalf of Pegasus employees.
“To help animals affected by the earthquake, we have transported pet carriers in aircraft cabins to all the airports located in earthquake-affected zones.”
Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, is seeking political advantage from the earthquake, pressing for foreign aid to be delivered through his territory as he aims to chip away at his international isolation, analysts say.
Amid an outpouring of sympathy for Syrians hit by the earthquake, Damascus has seized the moment to reiterate its longstanding demand for aid to be coordinated with his government, shunned by the west since Syria’s war began in 2011.
Western powers have shown no sign they are ready to meet that demand or re-engage with Assad, but his hand has been strengthened by difficulties facing cross-border aid flows into Syria’s rebel-held north-west from Turkey, Reuters reports.
The aid flows, critical to 4 million people in the area, have been temporarily halted since the earthquake, although a UN official expressed hope that they could resume on Thursday. Damascus has long said aid to the rebel enclave in the north should go via Syria, not across the Turkish border.
“Clearly there is some kind of opportunity in this crisis for Assad, for him to show ‘you need to work with me or through me’,” said Aron Lund, a Syria expert at the Century Foundation.
“If he is smart, he would facilitate aid to areas outside his control and get a chance to look like a responsible actor, but the regime is very stubborn.”
Yunus Emre Kaya and his fiancée, Gulcin, had been planning a life together before Monday’s earthquake shattered their dreams.
Two days later, Kaya was unzipping a black bodybag to identify her body in a sports hall in Kahramanmaraş where casualties from the disaster had been laid out. He gave her a last embrace, Reuters reports. They had been due to marry in April.
“I was planning to clothe her with a wedding dress but now I will clothe her with a funeral shroud,” he said.
The 24-year-old textile worker, who met Gulcin after he completed military service three years ago when she was 16, said her death had left him numb.
“Imagine somebody tied your hands and feet and you cannot get up. There is no food, no water, no air,” he said. “This is how I am. I am like the walking dead.”
Kaya was asleep at home when the quake struck, hitting his house “like an explosion” shortly after 4am on Monday.
He grabbed his mother and took her out into the street, before running for 10 minutes straight to Gulcin’s house.
He found her home in ruins. There were people in the rubble and screams from those trapped underneath. He later learned that Gulcin and her sister had died.
Nine-year-old Muhammed Acar after he was rescued with his seven-month-old brother Omer in Adiyaman, Turkey. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images© Provided by The Guardian
Two siblings, seven-month-old Omer and nine-year-old Muhammed Acar, are rescued in Adiyaman province, Turkey, 58 hours after the earthquake hit. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images© Provided by The Guardian
Two women at the site of a collapsed building in the Elbistan district of Kahramanmaraş. Photograph: Sedat Suna/EPA© Provided by The Guardian
WHO sends aid and experts; UN says “put politics aside”
The World Health Organization is sending expert teams and special flights with medical supplies to Turkey and Syria, the director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has told a media briefing attended by Reuters.
The WHO will send a high-level delegation to coordinate its response as well as three flights with medical supplies, one of which is already on its way to Istanbul. “The health needs are tremendous,” Dr Iman Shankiti, the organisation’s representative for Syria said.
Separately, a leading United Nations official called on Syria’s government to facilitate aid access to rebel-held areas in the north-west, warning that relief stocks would soon be depleted.
“Put politics aside and let us do our humanitarian work,” the UN’s resident Syria coordinator El-Mostafa Benlamlih said in an interview with AFP, warning: “We can’t afford to wait and negotiate. By the time we negotiate, it’s done, it’s finished.”