Turkey has ended rescue efforts in all but two provinces, almost two weeks after twin earthquakes killed tens of thousands of people, the country's disaster agency, AFAD, announced on February 19.
Rescue work would only continue in Kahramanmaras—where the epicentre of the first earthquake, of a 7.8-magnitude, was—and Hatay, the agency said. The chances of finding more people alive in the rubble were, however, quickly falling to a minute level.
More than 44,000 people were so far confirmed to have lost their lives in 11 provinces of southern Turkey, and in northern Syria, with the death toll expected to climb substantially for some time yet.
Neither Turkey, where more than 41,000 of the deaths have been recorded, nor Syria have said how many people are thought to be missing.
In Kahramanmaras and Hatay, search and rescue efforts were continuing at around 40 buildings, but AFAD expected this number to fall by the evening of February 19.
Around 345,000 apartments in Turkey are known to have been destroyed by the disaster. Some 105,794 buildings checked by Turkey’s Environment and Urbanisation Ministry were either destroyed or so badly damaged as to require demolition, the ministry said on February 19. Of these, 20,662 had collapsed.
The day also saw US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrive in Turkey. He announced $100m in humanitarian aid.
The new aid "will be moving soon. Sadly, it's less about search and rescue but long-term recovery. This is going to be a long-term effort", Blinken told reporters.
“At least 80% of the buildings must be demolished in [Hatay province’s capital] Antakya,” Lutfu Savas, the mayor of Hatay province—which suffered around 21,000 deaths in the earthquakes, more than half of the total number of the confirmed fatalities in Turkey—told broadcaster HaberTurk.
Savas added that there were 24,000 injured people across the province, which lies between Syria and the Mediterranean Sea.
AFAD’s general manager Orhan Tatar noted that some 6,040 aftershocks, with 40 of a 5 to 6 magnitude and one at 6.6, have hit the 11 provinces that form the quake disaster zone.
“It is extremely important to stay away from damaged buildings and not enter them,” The Associated Press reported him as telling a televised news briefing in Ankara.
He also warned of “secondary disasters” such as landslides and rockfalls.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to face a backlash over decades of shoddy building standards that left so many buildings in Turkey vulnerable to the earthquake tremors.
Even some so-called “earthquake-proof” luxury housing complexes were toppled by the earthquakes.
Opposition politicians complained of deference to Erdogan slowing the earthquake rescue.
Deep anxieties in Istanbul—which experts have long said is highly vulnerable to the possibility of a massive earthquake—have been reignited among the city’s 16mn-strong population by the disaster.