Earthquake deaths surpass 19,000 as survivors struggle to stay warm, fed

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ANTAKYA, Turkey (AP) — Thousands who lost their homes in a catastrophic earthquake huddled around campfires and clamored for food and water in the bitter cold, three days after the temblor and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 19,300.

Rescuers continued their race to pull more people alive from the rubble, with the window closing to find trapped survivors. While stories of miraculous rescues briefly buoyed spirits, the grim reality of the hardship facing tens of thousands who survived the disaster cast a pall.

In the Turkish city of Antakya, dozens of people scrambled for aid in front of a truck distributing children’s coats and other supplies.

Ahmet Tokgoz, a survivor, called for the government to evacuate people from the devastated region. While many of the tens of thousands who have lost their homes have found shelter in tents, stadiums and other temporary accommodation, others have spent the nights outdoors since Monday’s 7.8 magnitude quake.

“Especially in this cold, it is not possible to live here,” he said. “People are warming up around campfires, but campfires can only warm you up so much. … If people haven’t died from being stuck under the rubble, they’ll die from the cold.”

Meanwhile, the first U.N. aid trucks to enter rebel-held northwest Syria from Turkey since the quake arrived Thursday morning. Smaller aid organizations have sent in shipments, but the U.N. is only authorized to deliver aid through one border crossing and road damage has prevented that thus far.

Winter weather and damage to roads and airports from the quake have hampered the response throughout a region already contending with the repercussions of more than a decade of civil war in Syria. That conflict displaced millions of people within Syria and left many reliant on humanitarian aid, while also sending millions more over the border into Turkey to seek refuge.

Some in Turkey have complained the response was too slow. Any perception that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has mismanaged the crisis could hurt him at a time when he faces a tough battle for reelection in May. Erdogan — who was scheduled to continue his tour of devastated areas on Thursday — has sought to play down the criticism.

Meanwhile, emergency crews on both sides of the border worked through the night to find survivors. Experts said the survival window for those trapped under the rubble or otherwise unable to obtain basic necessities was closing rapidly. At the same time, they said it was too soon to abandon hope.

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