Rescue hopes dwindle as earthquake death toll passes 25,000

ADIYAMAN, Turkey — As the human death toll topped 25,000, the desperation mounted with each hour that passed for those who hoped to find their relatives alive in the rubble six days after two earthquakes devastated Turkey and Syria.

But as rescue workers continued their round-the-clock search in freezing temperatures Saturday, the chances of finding survivors among those trapped in concrete mounds of fallen houses and apartment blocks grew slim, and the United Nations emergency relief coordinator warned the death toll could double.   

In Turkey, 67 people had been clawed from the rubble in the previous 24 hours, Vice President Fuat Oktay told reporters late Friday, as reported by the Associated Press. He added that around 80,000 people were being treated at a hospital, and more than 1 million had been left homeless and were in temporary shelters.  

Rescue workers search for survivors of the earthquake in Antakya, Turkey, on Saturday. Hussein Malla / AP

His comments came after NBC News witnessed Ozlem Yilmaz, 33, and her 6-year-old daughter, Zeliha, being pulled from the rubble of a building in the southeastern city of Adiyaman by Turkish miners with the help of an American rescue team. 

“This is a miracle,” their relative Ilkay Yavuz said after speaking with them in an ambulance. “How can a person live in debris for five days?” 

Yavuz’s joy, however, was soon tempered by the fact that Ozlem’s 11-year-old daughter, Zeynep, had died. Her husband, his cousin, Oguzhan Yilmaz, 43, was confirmed dead Saturday.  

While local media reported more people had been pulled from the rubble Saturday, Martin Griffiths, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, warned that the death toll was likely to rise.  

“I think it is difficult to estimate precisely, as we need to get under the rubble, but I’m sure it will double or more,” he told British broadcaster Sky News Saturday. “That’s terrifying. This is nature striking back in a really harsh way.” (Sky News is owned by Comcast, the parent company of NBC News.)

The first of Monday’s devastating quakes struck Turkey and neighboring Syria in the early hours, and registered at magnitude- 7.8. It qualified as “major” on the official magnitude scale. Hours later, a second quake, registering at 7.6-magnitude, struck nearby.

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