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Death toll from Turkey-Syria earthquakes passes 46,000; U.S. vows more aid

A man reacts as people search the rubble of collapsed apartment blocks for personal belongings in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, on Saturday. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)
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More than 46,400 people have died across Syria and Turkey since the earthquakes nearly two weeks ago, officials said. In the final days of search-and-rescue operations, emergency workers have managed to extract a handful of people from the rubble alive.

Yunus Sezer, head of Turkey’s AFAD disaster management agency, said Saturday that the country’s death toll since Feb. 6 had risen to at least 40,642 people. More than 4,400 people are known to have died in rebel-held northwestern Syria, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. Syria’s Health Ministry has recorded at least 1,414 deaths.

“We experienced the biggest disaster of our history,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a news conference Saturday, speaking through an interpreter. “If you go on site, you will understand how grave the situation is compared to what you see on your TV screens.”

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At the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States would send an additional $100 million to help people affected by the earthquakes. The Biden administration pledged $85 million shortly after the quakes.

Blinken, who was in Europe for the weekend’s Munich Security Conference, toured the devastation in Turkey, a NATO ally, earlier in the day.

Hope for recovering more survivors was dwindling by the hour, as those still trapped approach 13 days without food or water. AFAD expected to end most of its rescue efforts Sunday night, according to VOA News.

In Turkey, rescuers managed to pull a couple and their 12-year-old child alive from underneath a collapsed apartment building in Hatay province more than 12 days after the earthquakes, but the child later died, Turkish broadcaster TRT World reported.

Christian Atsu, a Ghanaian soccer player who spent several years in the English Premier League, was among the victims. His agents announced that his body was recovered from under the rubble Saturday.

The majority of foreign search-and-rescue teams that helped in Turkey departed the country by late Saturday, according to Cavusoglu. Schooling in Turkey’s affected provinces is expected to resume early this week, Minister of National Education Mahmut Ozer said.

The earthquakes have wrought destruction across southern Turkey and northwestern Syria, displacing thousands and pushing them into makeshift cities filled with shipping container homes or rows of tents. About 84,700 buildings collapsed, are damaged or are in need of immediate demolition, Murat Kurum, head of the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, said Friday.

People left homeless by the Feb. 6 earthquakes seek refuge in tents set up in a stadium in Turkey's Kahramanmaras, as seen in drone video from Feb. 18. (Video: Reuters)

The Turkish government says it aims to rebuild about 30,000 buildings within a year. In northwest Syria, at least 9,000 buildings have been completely or partially destroyed, the OCHA said.

Emergency aid from the United Nations has continued to enter Syria through border openings in places such as Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam over the weekend. On Saturday, World Food Program director David Beasley told Reuters that authorities in northwest Syria were hindering access to the country and “bottlenecking” operations.

“That has to get fixed straight away,” he said.

At least 70 aid workers have died in the earthquakes, according to the OCHA, including individuals who took part in implementing U.N. cross-border aid.

Semanur Karayaka contributed to this report.