Aid pours into quake-hit Turkey, Syria as death toll soars past 20,700

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By Euronews  with AP
Members of the British rescue team search in a destroyed house in Antakya, southern Turkey.
Members of the British rescue team search in a destroyed house in Antakya, southern Turkey.   -  Copyright  Khalil Hamra/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Rescuers pulled more survivors from beneath collapsed buildings Thursday night, but hopes were fading of finding many more people alive after the catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria. 

More than 20,700 deaths have been recorded so far in the world's deadliest earthquake since 2010.

The US Treasury Department said Thursday it had issued a license to allow earthquake-related relief to get through that would otherwise be prohibited by sanctions on Syria.

“US sanctions in Syria will not stand in the way of life-saving efforts for the Syrian people,’’ deputy Treasury secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement. 

“While US sanctions programs already contain robust exemptions for humanitarian efforts, today Treasury is issuing a blanket General License to authorise earthquake relief efforts so that those providing assistance can focus on what’s needed most: saving lives and rebuilding.”

The license lasts for six months. It expands on broad humanitarian authorisations already in effect.

The US will provide $85 million in initial earthquake aid to Turkey and Syria, which will include medicine, shelter and other supplies, President Joe Biden announced. 

UN chief on earthquake relief

The United Nations says a small convoy crossed from Turkey into Syria's rebel-held northwest Thursday with desperately needed medicines, blankets, tents, and UN shelter kits, the first aid to reach the enclave, three days after the devastating earthquake killed thousands.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for more help to aid in the recovery efforts and told reporters that Martin Griffiths, the chief humanitarian coordinator is in Turkey making his way to affected areas this weekend to assess the needs on the ground.

Before the convoy of six trucks, the only cargo coming across the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkey-Syria border was a steady stream of bodies of earthquake victims - Syrian refugees who had fled the war in their country and settled in Turkey but perished in Monday's 7.8 magnitude quake. 

Tearful survivors carried the remains of their loved ones wrapped in sheets, while others waited on the Syrian side to receive them.

Khalil Hamra/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Rescuers search for survivors in a destroyed building in Antakya, southern Turkey.Khalil Hamra/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Even before the earthquake wreaked havoc on both sides of the border - the death toll on Thursday surpassed 19,000 - the Syrian enclave of 4.6 million people was plagued by extreme misery, with many living in displacement camps and relying on humanitarian aid to survive.

Guterres said $25 million in relief funds had already been deployed to fund efforts and said a wider appeal will come next week to attain more funding.

For more watch Euronews' report in the video above.