ISKENDERUN, Turkey (AP) — Rescuers pulled several people alive from the shattered remnants of buildings on Friday, some who survived more than 100 hours trapped under crushed concrete in the bitter cold after a catastrophic earthquake slammed Turkey and Syria, killing more than 22,000.
The survivors included six relatives who huddled in a small pocket under the rubble, a teenager who drank his own urine to slake his thirst, and a 4-year-old boy offered a jelly bean to calm him down as he was shimmied out.
But the flurry of dramatic rescues — some broadcast live on Turkish television — could not obscure the overwhelming devastation of what Turkey’s president called one of the greatest disasters in his nation’s history. Entire neighborhoods of high-rise buildings have been reduced to twisted metal, pulverized concrete and exposed wires, and the magnitude 7.8 quake has already killed more people than Japan’s Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, with many more bodies undoubtedly yet to be recovered and counted.
Four days after the earthquake hammered a sprawling border region that is home to more than 13.5 million people, relatives wept and chanted as rescuers pulled 17-year-old Adnan Muhammed Korkut from a basement in Turkey’s Gaziantep, near the quake’s epicenter. He had been trapped there for 94 hours, forced to drink his own urine to survive.
“Thank God you arrived,” he said, embracing his mother and others who leaned down to kiss and hug him as he was being loaded into an ambulance.
For one of the rescuers, identified only as Yasemin, Adnan’s survival hit home hard.
“I have a son just like you,” she told him after giving him a warm hug. “I swear to you, I have not slept for four days. … I was trying to get you out.”
In Adiyaman, meanwhile, rescue crews pulled 4-year-old Yagiz Komsu from the debris of his home, 105 hours after the quake struck. They later managed to rescue his mother, Ayfer Komsu, who survived with a fractured rib, according the HaberTurk television, which broadcast the rescue live. The crowd was asked not to cheer or applaud to avoid scaring the child, who was given a jelly bean, the station reported.
Elsewhere, HaberTurk television said rescuers had identified nine people trapped inside the remains of a high-rise apartment block in Iskenderun and pulled out six of them, including a woman who waved at onlookers as she was being carried away on a stretcher. The crowd shouted: “God is Great!” after she was brought out.
The building was only 600 feet (200 meters) from the Mediterranean Sea and narrowly avoided being flooded when the massive earthquake sent water surging into the city center.
There were still more stories: A married couple was pulled from the rubble in Iskenderun after spending 109 hours buried in a small crevice. A German team said it worked for more than 50 hours to free a woman from the rubble of a house in Kirikhan. In the hard-hit city of Kahramanmaras, two teenage sisters were saved, and video of the operation showed one emergency worker playing a pop song on his smartphone to distract them.
And the work continued: One trapped woman could be heard speaking to a team trying to dig her out in video broadcast by HaberTurk television. She told her would-be rescuers that she had given up hope of being found — and prayed to be put to sleep because she was so cold. The station did not say where the operation was taking place.
Even though experts say trapped people can live for a week or more, the chances of finding survivors are dimming.
The rescues Friday provided fleeting moments of joy and relief amid the misery and hardship gripping the shattered region where morgues and cemeteries are overwhelmed and bodies lie wrapped in blankets, rugs and tarps in the streets of some cities.
In Kahramanmaras, a sports hall served as a makeshift morgue to accommodate and identify bodies.
Temperatures remain below freezing across the large region, and many people have no place to shelter. The Turkish government has distributed millions of hot meals, as well as tents and blankets, but was still struggling to reach many people in need.
Some in Turkey have complained that the government was slow to respond, a perception that could hurt Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he faces a tough battle for reelection in May.
The disaster compounded suffering in a region beset by Syria’s 12-year civil war, which has displaced millions of people within the country and left them dependent on aid and sent millions more seeking refuge in Turkey.
The ongoing conflict has isolated many areas of Syria and complicated efforts to get aid in. The U.N. said the first earthquake-related aid convoy crossed from Turkey into northwestern Syria on Friday — a day after an aid shipment planned before the disaster arrived.
The trucks managed to navigate a route that had been obstructed for days by debris.
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asmaa, visited survivors at the Aleppo University Hospital, Syrian state media reported — the leader’s first public appearance in an affected area of the country since the disaster. He then visited rescuers in one of the hardest-hit areas in the city.
Aleppo has been scarred by years of heavy bombardment and shelling — much of it by the forces of Assad and his ally, Russia — and it was among the cities most devastated by the earthquake.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s head of emergencies, were expected to arrive in the city later Friday to help support the delivery of assistance.
Also Friday, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has been waging a separatist insurgency in Turkey’s mainly-Kurdish southeast, including some of the affected areas, said it was declaring a cease-fire.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s conflict with Kurdish militants in Syria, linked to the PKK, has further complicated the delivery of aid to the region. On Thursday, Kurdish officials in Syria said that Turkish-backed Syrian rebels had blocked an aid convoy destined for earthquake victims.
Turkey’s disaster management agency said more than 19,300 people had been confirmed killed in the disaster so far in Turkey, with more than 77,000 injured.
More than 3,300 have been confirmed killed in Syria, bringing the total number of dead to more than 22,000.
Some 12,000 buildings in Turkey have either collapsed or sustained serious damage, according to Turkey’s minister of environment and urban planning, Murat Kurum.
Engineers suggested that the scale of the devastation is partly explained by lax enforcement of building codes, which some have warned for years would make them vulnerable to earthquakes.
Mustafa Turan counted 248 collapsed buildings between the airport and the center of Adiyaman after he rushed to his hometown from Istanbul following the quake.
The journalist said Friday that 15 of his relatives had been killed, and scores of people were sleeping outside or in tents.
“At night, about 4 a.m., it got so cold that our drinking water froze,” he said.
Alsayed reported from Bab al-Hawa, Syria, and Fraser from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press journalists Zeynep Bilginsoy and Robert Badendieck in Istanbul; Mehmet Guzel in Antakya, Turkey; Emrah Gurel and Yakup Paksoy in Adiyaman, Turkey; Bassem Mroue and Abby Sewell in Beirut; Salar Salim in Erbil, Iraq; Hogir al-Abdo in Manbij, Syria; and David Rising in Bangkok contributed.