(MENAFN- Gulf Times) Freezing temperatures deepened the misery Thursday for survivors of a massive earthquake in Turkey and Syria that killed more than 16,000 people, as rescuers raced to save countless people still trapped under rubble.
The death toll from Monday's 7.8-magnitude quake is expected to rise sharply as rescue efforts pass the 72-hour mark that disaster experts consider the most likely period to save lives.
Survivors have been left to scramble for food and shelter -- and in some cases watch helplessly as their relatives called for rescue, and eventually went silent under the debris.
'My nephew, my sister-in-law and my sister-in-law's sister are in the ruins. They are trapped under the ruins and there is no sign of life,' said Semire Coban, a kindergarten teacher, in Turkey's Hatay province.
'We can't reach them. We are trying to talk to them, but they are not responding... We are waiting for help. It has been 48 hours now,' she said.
Still, rescuers kept pulling survivors from the debris as the death toll continued to rise.
Temperatures plunged to minus-five degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit) in Gaziantep early Thursday, but the cold did not stop thousands of families from spending the night in cars and makeshift tents, too scared to stay in their homes or prohibited from returning to them.
Parents walked the streets of the southeastern Turkish city -- close to the epicentre of the earthquake -- carrying their children in blankets because it was warmer than sitting in a tent.
'When we sit down, it is painful, and I fear for anyone who is trapped under the rubble in this,' said Melek Halici, who wrapped her two-year-old daughter in a blanket as they watched rescuers working late into Wednesday night.
Officials and medics said 12,873 people had died in Turkey and at least 3,162 in neighbouring Syria from Monday's quake, bringing the total to 16,035. Experts fear the number will continue to rise sharply.
In Brussels, the EU is planning a donor conference in March to mobilise international aid for Syria and Turkey.
'We are now racing against the clock to save lives together,' EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter.
'No one should be left alone when a tragedy like this hits a people,' she said.
'People dying every second'
Due to the scale of the damage and the lack of help coming to certain areas, survivors said they felt alone in responding to the disaster.
'Even the buildings that haven't collapsed were severely damaged. There are now more people under the rubble than those above it,' Hassan, who did not provide his full name, said from the Syrian town of Jindayris.
'There are around 400-500 people trapped under each collapsed building, with only 10 people trying to pull them out. And there is no machinery,' he added.
The White Helmets, leading efforts to rescue people buried under rubble in areas of Syria, have appealed for international help in their 'race against time'.
A leading UN official called for the facilitation of aid access to areas in the northwest, warning that relief stocks will soon be depleted.
The Turkey-Syria border is one of the world's most active earthquake zones.
Monday's quake was the largest Turkey has seen since 1939, when 33,000 people died in the eastern Erzincan province.
In 1999, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake killed more than 17,000.
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