ISKENDERUN, Turkey (AP) — Rescuers pulled several earthquake survivors from the shattered remnants of buildings Friday, including some who lasted more than 100 hours trapped under crushed concrete after the disaster slammed Turkey and Syria and killed more than 23,000 people.
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 who was 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 the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the quake’s epicenter. He had been trapped 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 a collapsed 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: A 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 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.
Temperatures remain below freezing across the large region, and many people have no 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.
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. The fighting sent millions more to seek refuge in Turkey.
The 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 U.N. refugee agency estimates as many as 5.3 million people have been left homeless in Syria. Sivanka Dhanapala, the country representative in Syria for UNHCR, told reporters Friday that the agency is focusing on providing tents, plastic sheeting, thermal blankets, sleeping mats and winter clothing.
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asmaa, visited survivors at the Aleppo University Hospital, according to Syrian state media. It was the leader’s first public appearance in an affected area of the country since the disaster. He then visited rescuers in one of the city’s hardest-hit areas.
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.
The Syrian government on Friday also announced that it will allow aid to reach all parts of the country, including areas held by insurgent groups in the northwest.
Also Friday, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, said it was declaring a cease-fire in its separatist insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast, including some areas affected by the quake.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s conflict with Kurdish militants in Syria who are linked to the PKK has further complicated the delivery of aid. 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 20,200 people had been confirmed killed in the disaster so far in Turkey, with more than 80,000 injured.
More than 3,500 have been confirmed killed in Syria, bringing the total number of dead to more than 23,000.
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 was partly explained by lax enforcement of building codes.