(Reuters) – Cold, hunger and despair gripped hundreds of thousands of people left homeless after the earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria three days ago as the death toll passed 20,000 on Thursday.
The rescue of a 2-year-old boy after 79 hours trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building in Hatay, Turkey, and several other people raised spirits among weary search crews. But hopes were fading that many more would be found alive in the ruins of towns and cities. The death toll across both countries has now surpassed the more than 17,000 killed in 1999 when a similarly powerful earthquake hit northwest Turkey.
A Turkish official said the disaster posed “very serious difficulties” for the holding of an election scheduled for May 14 in which President Tayyip Erdogan has been expected to face his toughest challenge in two decades in power.
With anger simmering over delays in the delivery of aid and getting the rescue effort underway, the disaster is likely to play into the vote if it goes ahead. The first U.N. convoy carrying aid to stricken Syrians crossed over the border from Turkey.
In Syria’s Idlib province, Munira Mohammad, a mother of four who fled Aleppo after the quake, said: “It is all children here, and we need heating and supplies. Last night we couldn’t sleep because it was so cold. It is very bad.”
Hundreds of thousands of people in both countries have been left homeless in the middle of winter. Many have camped out in makeshift shelters in supermarket car parks, mosques, roadsides or amid the ruins, often desperate for food, water and heat.
Some 40% of buildings in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, epicentre of the tremor, are damaged, according to a preliminary report by Turkey’s Bogazici University.