Rescuers continued to pull some survivors out of the rubble on Saturday, five days after the tremors of the first earthquake struck Syria and Turkey, but hopes were fading for many more to be found.
Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake is Turkey’s most devastating since 1939 and the death toll continues to rise. The death toll exceeded 21,000 in Turkey as of 20:00 GMT, and more than 3,500 others were confirmed dead in Syria, as the overall toll surpassed 25,000.
Reporting from Antakya, Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith said that despite the overwhelming level of destruction in the capital of Turkey’s Hatay province, there was still a glimmer of hope.
“We are in the 135th hour now since the earthquakes, but there is still some hope. In the 132nd hour, a toddler was rescued, and a couple of hours before that, a man and woman were rescued alive. The search for survivors has not stopped,” said Smith.
He added the government plans to reopen the airport in the city within 24 hours.
“The airport runway was badly damaged. They said they are about to re-tarmac. This will be essential for relief flights. The need is so desperate for aid,” said Smith.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, facing questions about earthquake planning and response time, has said authorities should have reacted faster.
Volunteers in Antakya have said ransacking was adding to their daunting task.
Erdogan said he would take tough measures against looters.
“We’ve declared a state of emergency,” he said during a visit to the disaster zone. “It means that, from now on, the people who are involved in looting or kidnapping should know that the state’s firm hand is on their backs,” he said.
One resident said he witnessed looting in the first days after Monday’s earthquake before leaving the city for a village.
“People were smashing the windows and fences of shops and cars,” said Mehmet Bok, 26, now back in Antakya and searching for a work colleague in a collapsed building.
Forty-eight looters have been arrested by Turkish authorities, state media said. The suspects were held in eight different provinces as part of investigations into looting.
Some rescue organizations also said that clashes between people have led to the suspension of their work.
On Saturday, two German rescue and aid groups suspended operations, citing security concerns amid reports of gunfire. An Austrian team also briefly suspended work before resuming.
Millions homeless: UN
In Syria, the United Nations said up to 5.3 million people may be homeless after the earthquakes, while nearly 900,000 people are in urgent need of hot food in Turkey and Syria.
In the rebel-held enclave of northwest Syria that suffered the country’s worst damage from the earthquake but where relief efforts are complicated by civil war, very little aid had entered despite a pledge from Damascus to improve access.
Turkey also said it is working to open two new routes into rebel-held parts of Syria.
In Turkey, about 80,000 people were being treated in hospital, and 1.05 million others left homeless by the earthquakes were in temporary shelters, Turkey said.
Among those being treated were 16 infants who were transferred from the epicenter of the earthquake, Kahramanmaras, to the capital city, Ankara, by the Turkish authorities.
“All of them have been identified, but the authorities have not been able to reach their families,” reported Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu from Ankara.
“As these babies fight for their lives in the ICU, the authorities search for their families,” she said.
The premature babies will remain in the intensive care unit until they are stronger. The rest will be attended by foster mothers appointed by the government.
“The babies are in good shape,” said Ferit Kulal, a chief physician at the hospital where the babies have been taken. “One of the babies was born at 28 weeks and another at 33. Following the completion of their examinations, we will plan their discharge,” he said.