Week After Turkey-Syria Earthquake, Relief Efforts Are Stymied

A week after a devastating earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, families crowded under tarps and cardboard shelters, around fires of furniture and debris, struggling to survive in the ruins of cities and under conditions of extreme cold as they waited for aid and mourned the thousands dead.

The death toll for both countries surpassed 35,000 on Monday, with more than one million people left homeless in Turkey alone, according to the Turkish government. One of the most urgent needs was shelter to help the thousands of people whose homes were either destroyed or feared unsafe.

In the towns and cities in the earthquake zone, people appeared to be crowded everywhere except inside the cracked and unstable buildings where they had once worked and lived. Large apartment towers stood dark and empty while tents and makeshift shelters filled parks, sidewalks and the courtyards of mosques.

At a campsite across the street from a collapsed building in Kahramanmaras, a Turkish city near the epicenter, one family struggled to stay warm around a fire of whatever it could burn.

“I couldn’t think about eating,” said Zeynep Omac, sitting on wooden benches with her two children, 9 and 14, near a plume of acrid smoke. “I just give the kids snacks I can find.”

Ms. Omac and her children had left their apartment during the earthquake in their pajamas. “I try to find clothes from there,” she said, pointing toward a pile of clothes on the pavement, the remnants of some aid that had reached the city.

Across the street, workers searched for bodies in the rubble, their hopes of finding survivors dimming so long after the building fell. Ms. Omac, 38, said she had relatives under the debris: a niece and nephew of her husband. She was waiting for the rescuers to pull their relatives out, alive or dead.

Turkey’s national emergency management agency, AFAD, has distributed a huge quantity of tents — with the help of more than 238,000 relief workers — but the sheer scale of the disaster has meant many still lack shelter.

Many people cobbled debris together to erect what they could: One family, numbering about a dozen, built a shelter of cardboard and tarp over a flatbed truck, with blankets and thin mattresses in the beds.

The Turkish Red Crescent, a humanitarian group, said it was speeding up the production of tents to house people after Turkish news media reported a shortage of temporary housing and poor sanitary conditions for the homeless.

Though the authorities occasionally reported a harrowing rescue — like Istanbul’s mayor celebrating the escape of a woman after 175 hours underneath rubble — fewer and fewer survivors were found on Monday. In Turkey and Syria, aid workers largely turned their attention toward the people without food, medicine and homes. In both countries, bad weather and damaged roads have slowed the flow of aid.

Martin Griffiths, the top humanitarian chief at the United Nations, said on Monday that the window for rescuing people from the rubble was “coming to a close,” and that the focus was moving to providing homes, food, schooling and psychological care to victims.

While aid is flowing into Turkey, relatively little has reached parts of northern Syria held by the opposition because of political divisions after years of civil war. Much of the aid that has been sent to Syria has not always contained the most urgently needed supplies, such as food.

Mazen Aloush, a spokesman for Turkish-backed opposition groups on the Syrian side of the bab Al-Hawa border crossing, said, “The only aid we received in the past days until this moment are tents, equipment, blankets and detergents and mattresses.”

As President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey came under criticism for his government’s response to the earthquake, Turkish officials on Monday detained more property developers and others suspected of having a hand in shoddy construction that violated building codes, according to the state-run Anadolu News Agency. Experts have said that poor construction most likely exacerbated the deadliness of the earthquake.

One of the latest people to be detained was Ibrahim Mustafa Uncuoglu, a contractor of a collapsed building in the southern city of Gaziantep, Anadolu reported. Bekir Bozdag, Turkey’s justice minister, said on Sunday that legal proceedings against more than 130 people were underway over their apparent ties to collapsed buildings.

Separately, the Turkish police said in a statement on Monday that the authorities had detained 56 people and arrested 14 of them, without specifying charges, on accusations that they had spread disinformation about the earthquake.

The earthquake, measuring 7.8 magnitude and followed by an aftershock nearly as strong, is already Turkey’s deadliest since 1939. The death toll there is now more than 31,600; in northwestern Syria, more than 3,500 people have died. Hospitals, lacking sufficient medical supplies, have struggled to care for the large numbers of people requiring urgent help.

In Syria, where the earthquake hit areas controlled by the government and others held by opposition forces backed by Turkey, the United Nations has tried to deliver aid across front lines.

The government-held parts of Syria have received air shipments including food, medical equipment and fuel from the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Iran and Russia, according to SANA, the state-run Syrian news agency.

The Syrian government has tightly controlled what aid is allowed into opposition-held areas, and Bab al-Hawa, the only U.N.-approved border crossing between Turkey and Syria for transporting international aid into northwestern Syria, has been a lifeline for opposition-held areas in the north.

The United Nations said it had approval from the Syrian government to send aid convoys into opposition-held areas in northwest Syria, where about four million people were almost completely dependent on aid even before the quake struck. But U.N. officials said they were still negotiating with opposition groups for additional clearance.

Over the past week, the United Nations has sent more than 50 trucks, with materials including blankets and medical equipment, across the border to Syria from Turkey, and at least six more trucks were sent on Monday.

Recovery efforts have been stymied by the lack of fuel, machinery and vehicles, as well as aftershocks, which are reportedly continuing in northwestern Syria and forcing people to flee their homes, the United Nations said.

In Adiyaman, in southwest Turkey, some survivors commiserated while they waited for help. During the earthquake, remembered Mustafa Dascan, 45, he fell through a second-story wall and landed on the sidewalk — his bed was still visible through a hole in the wall.

The taller building next door had fallen on it, dealing heavy damage to the house and destroying the back end of a black Peugeot parked nearby — a gift Mr. Dascan had recently bought his daughter for her 18th birthday.

Mr. Dascan managed to get his wife and three children out, and they have moved to a village house with other families. But they still spent their time outside, in the cold.

“It is a solid house, but my kids are scared to go in, so depending on the weather, we sit in the yard or sleep in the car,” he said.

He was back in his ruined neighborhood, he said, “just to share the pain of my neighbors.”

Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva; Safak Timur from Kahramanmaras, Turkey; and Farnaz Fassihi from New York.

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