Death toll rises as cold grips earthquake-torn Turkey, Syria
Heavy snow fell over parts of Turkey on Feb. 7 amid cleanup from the recent earthquake. The hazardous travel conditions made it tough to continue efficiently.
The survival window for those trapped in the rubble following the catastrophic earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northwestern Syria Monday was rapidly closing Wednesday evening, local time, as crews continued their search for survivors. Wintry conditions this week will only add to the burden those affected by the earthquake face.
Officials confirmed on Wednesday that more than 20,000 people have been killed in Turkey and Syria, with over 62,000 people estimated to be injured, making this the sixth deadliest earthquake this century and the deadliest in over a decade.
The deadly magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred shortly after 4 a.m. local time Monday near the major Turkish city of Gaziantep. More than 100 aftershocks were also reported across the two countries.
Residents were jolted awake in the middle of the night and forced to flee their homes into the frigid conditions as rain and snow showers were ongoing across the region. A storm that passed near the epicenter in Gaziantep Monday produced steady rain in southern Turkey and northern Syria and hampered rescue and recovery efforts.
UNICEF Spokesperson James Elder confirmed that "thousands of homes have been destroyed, displacing families and exposing them to the elements at a time of year when temperatures regularly drop below freezing."
Elder further noted that schools, hospitals and other refuge locations were also damaged or completely destroyed and that Syrian refugees in more informal housing are especially vulnerable to the cold. Over 5,600 buildings were knocked over in Turkey alone, according to Turkey's Department of Emergency Management.
The World Health Organization said on Twitter that recent heavy snow and rainfall were making the devastating situation even worse for people waiting outdoors across the region. The weather has also slowed the progression of trucks bringing in supplies.
Low temperatures in quake-impacted areas will continue to take a toll on the tens of thousands who have been left homeless.
"Through the end of the week, temperatures will trend between 4-8 degrees Fahrenheit (2-4 degrees Celsius) below normal for early February across central and western Turkey," AccuWeather Meteorologist Alyssa Smithmyer said. "In Turkish cities such as Gaziantep, daytime highs are forecast to dip to the lower 40s (5-9 C) into the start of this weekend. Typical daytime temperatures in the area trend near 50 degrees (10 C) this time of year."
Cities like Gaziantep and Elbistan, those closest to the earthquakes that had a rating of 7.0 or higher on the Richter Scale, can anticipate high temperatures in the lower or middle 40s F (around 6 C) with low temperatures dropping to the mid-20s F (around 4 C below zero). AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures are forecast to dip down to 26 degrees Fahrenheit (just over 3 C below zero) Thursday night in Gaziantep.
Over 100 miles to the northeast of Gaziantep, rescue and recovery efforts continued in Malatya where former journalist Ozel Pikal told The Associated Press he believed at least some of the victims had frozen to death as temperatures dipped below freezing. As for the volunteers and crews, the cold also hampered their ability to search the rubble by hand.
"Our hands cannot pick up anything because of the cold," he told the AP. "Work machines are needed."
Temperatures across parts of Turkey and Syria as of 5:45 a.m. local time Thursday.
AccuWeather meteorologists say the more extreme cold is likely to remain farther removed from the earthquake epicenter and stay in portions of central and western Turkey. In these areas, like the cities of Ankara and Kayseri, high temperatures are unlikely to rise above the freezing mark.
AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tyler Roys did note, however, that despite the cold forecast across the region, dry weather is also expected. Sunshine is likely each day, and the lack of rain should help aid rescue and recovery efforts.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Tuesday that hotels in Antalya will be used to give earthquake survivors a warm place to shelter. Thousands of tents and more than 100,000 beds were also sent to the most severely impacted communities. As of Wednesday morning, at least 380,000 people have taken cover in government shelters or hotels, the AP reported. The president also declared a state of emergency for the 10 impacted provinces for at least three months.
The Hatay Airport, an international airport located in southwestern Turkey, suspended operations after its runway was significantly damaged by the quake. Photos and videos shared on Twitter showed a massive tear in the middle of the airport’s only runway.
The Gaziantep Castle, a historical site and tourist attraction in southeastern Turkey, was also severely damaged during the quake on Monday, CNN reported.
Light shaking was felt in Ankara, Turkey's capital city, which is located about 318 miles to the northwest. Shaking was also observed in Lebanon. In Israel, the quake was felt around Tel Aviv. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, shaking was even reported as far away as Cairo.
Soldiers carry a 20-day-old baby who was rescued 59 hours after the earthquake in Hatay, Antakya, Turkey. After the baby, who was stuck in the wreckage with his mother, was rescued, he was transported to the ambulance by the soldiers and treated. The baby was reported to be in good health. (Ibrahim Oner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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