Hope turns to despair in Turkey over lack of quake help
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Hope turns to despair in Turkey over lack of quake help

Each passing hour brought more devastating news from Turkey and Syria where over 6,000 people died after a massive quake.
Each passing hour brought more devastating news from Turkey and Syria where over 6,000 people died after a massive quake.

KAHRAMANMARAS (TURKEY) - It is the last time Mesut Hancer will ever hold his 15-year-old daughter's hand.

And despite the icy weather, he refuses to let it go, caressing her waxy fingers after she died in the fearsome earthquake that has devastated southern Turkey and neighbouring Syria.

Wrapped up in a fluorescent orange jacket, Hancer knelt next to Irmak's lifeless body as it lay under the rubble on a mattress near the quake's epicentre in Kahramanmaras province.

He was too grief-stricken to speak. He simply sat and held her protruding hand, the rest of her body still hidden by huge slabs of concrete.

Irmak is one of more than 6,256 people who died in Turkey and Syria after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Monday, injuring thousands and leaving millions unable to return home because their apartments either no longer exist or could crumble from an aftershock.

For Irmak, it is too late.

But as each hour brings more horror, fury and frustration are rising in Kahramanmaras, where residents are lashing out at the state for what they see as its slow response to Turkey's biggest disaster in decades.

"Where is the state? Where are they? I can't retrieve my brother from the ruins. I can't reach my nephew. Look around here. There is no state official here for God's sake," Ali Sagiroglu shouted in exasperation.

His father and brother have vanished in the rubble, their fates unknown.

The devastation is overwhelming. Eight apartment buildings more than 10 storeys high in one area of the city centre collapsed during the first quake that hit before dawn.

Several powerful aftershocks have followed.

Very few were able to escape from the eight buildings, and it is believed around 150 people lived in each block.

- 'No compassion' -

Sagiroglu wasn't alone in his anger.

No longer willing to wait for help to arrive, some families used their bare hands to find their loved ones, dead or alive.

AFP teams witnessed many areas of Kahramanmaras in which groups of survivors stood alone, without any government teams offering food, medical aid or other support.

An eerie silence had descended on the city centre by Tuesday afternoon.

"Yesterday, we could hear a lot of people in the ruins crying for help but this morning, it is silent -- they must be dead because of the cold," a 40-something-year-old man said, refusing to give his name.

Those fortunate to be alive huddle around bonfires to keep warm, while others sought shelter from harsh wind and rain in their cars.

Temperatures dropped to -3 degrees Celsius (26 degrees Fahrenheit) overnight.

Cuma Yildiz, an elderly man in his sixties, accused officials of showing no mercy.

"Where are they now, where?" he asked. "They don't have mercy, they don't have compassion," he thundered.

Under pressure heading into a tough May election, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday promised to spend 100 billion liras ($5.3 billion) on various quake support measures.

He also pledged that "many" members of the armed forces would soon assist search and rescue efforts.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu separately went on live television from Kahramanmaras to insist that 2,000 search and rescue personnel were at work in the province.

- Growing desperation in Hatay -

Onur Kayai was so desperate for help in nearby Hatay province, close to the Syrian border, that he chased after two disaster agency vehicles to help rescue his mother and brother -- but to no avail.

"We need urgent help," the 40-year-old NGO worker said. "My mother's voice is louder, but my brother makes no sound," he said, pacing in front of a damaged building.

Semire Coban, a kindergarten teacher, was equally distressed.

She patiently waited for rescuers to arrive, but agonised that her nephew and two other trapped relatives were not responding to her calls.

"The teams prefer to work in the rubble where they can hear voices," she said.

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