More than 12,000 confirmed fatalities in world's deadliest earthquake in over a decade

Canada is sending a disaster assessment team to Turkey as stretched rescue crews on the ground and in Syria continue their search for signs of life in the rubble of thousands of buildings toppled by Monday's devastating earthquake.

Canadian Disaster Assessment Team en route to Turkey, will assess situation on ground and possible assistance

A man close to the camera cries out and raises his yellow-gloved hands, in front of a collapsed building, which people are standing on top of in the background.
A man cries out after rescuers found his father dead under a collapsed building in Kahramanmaras in southern Turkey on Wednesday. Thinly stretched rescue teams are still working to find any survivors in the rubble of thousands of buildings downed in Turkey and Syria by a catastrophic earthquake on Monday. (Hussein Malla/The Associated Press)

With hope of finding survivors fading, stretched rescue teams in Turkey and Syria searched Wednesday for signs of life in the rubble of thousands of buildings toppled by the world's deadliest earthquake in more than a decade. The confirmed death toll rose past 12,000.

They lifted slabs of cement with enormous cranes and smashed rubble with jackhammers. Then, they stopped. Silence. 

Among the wreckage of a collapsed 14-storey building in the Turkish city of Adana, the shriek of a whistle pierced the noise every few minutes on Wednesday. Rescue workers hollered for quiet, and listened for any hint of voices from the debris. Hundreds of people watching hushed.

During one moment of digging, volunteer Bekir Bicer uncovered a crushed birdcage, he said. Inside was a blue and yellow bird, alive after nearly 60 hours.

"I was very happy. I nearly cried," Bicer said. "The cage was broken, but the bird was still inside."

Dozens of rescue workers stand on a pile of rubble.
Firefighters and rescue teams search for people in a destroyed building in the southern Turkish city of Adana on Wednesday. (Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press)

Friends and family of those who remained trapped under the rubble sat beside fires, waiting for a miracle even as the survival window was closing.

Suat Yarkan, 50, said his aunt and her two daughters lived in an apartment on the building's fourth floor. They would have been home asleep when the quake struck. He was desperate for hope that they could be rescued alive.

"Look at the bird. Sixty hours," he said. "It makes me feel like maybe God is helping us … I have to believe that they will recover everyone."

As the sun set Wednesday for the third time on devastated cities and towns in Turkey and Syria, the push to recover survivors became more urgent as the lack of food and water, bitterly cold weather and potential injuries grew even more acute. 

Several people in coats stand on a sidewalk and in a street. They have sad expressions as they watch something outside of the shot.
Residents watch as rescue teams search for any survivors in a collapsed building in Adana on Wednesday. (Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press)

Prospects for finding survivors almost three days after the quake are narrow, experts say.

"The first 72 hours are considered to be critical as the condition of people trapped and injured can deteriorate quickly and become fatal if they are not rescued and given medical attention in time," said Steven Godby, an expert in natural hazards at Nottingham Trent University in England.

In Adana on Wednesday, rescue workers at another collapsed building draped a white sheet across a recess in the mound of debris, obscuring the view of what they'd discovered there.

The digging machines came to a stop, and a stretcher was pulled behind the sheet as the workers looked on in silence.

WATCH | Hope of finding survivors fades as temperatures drop: 

The enormous scale of earthquakes’ destruction in Turkey

2 months ago
Duration 2:41
CBC’s Briar Stewart shows the full scale of the devastation in the Turkish cities of Pazarcık and Gaziantep, located at the epicentre of the second deadly earthquake that struck Turkey.

Desperate for shelter

Many in Turkey's disaster zone were sleeping in their cars or in the streets under blankets, fearful of going back into buildings shaken by the 7.8-magnitude tremor that hit in the early hours of Monday. 

The confirmed death toll rose to 9,057 in Turkey on Wednesday. In Syria, the death toll climbed to at least 2,950 by late Wednesday, according to the government and a rescue service operating in the rebel-held northwest.

Rescuers in both countries warned that the number of dead would keep rising as some survivors said help had yet to arrive.

WATCH | Drone footage shows scale of damage in Turkey: 

Drone video of collapsed buildings in Turkey

2 months ago
Duration 0:56
Drone video shows devastating impact of earthquake in Kahramanmaras, Turkey.

"Where are the tents, where are food trucks?" said Melek, 64, in the southern Turkish city of Antakya, adding that she had not seen any rescue teams.

"We haven't seen any food distribution here, unlike previous disasters in our country. We survived the earthquake, but we will die here due to hunger or cold."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there had been problems with roads and airports but that everything would get better by the day, while speaking to reporters after surveying damage in Kahramanmaras province.

A group of people sit on chairs on the street. A pink building has collapsed behind them.
People gather near collapsed buildings in Golbasi in southern Turkey on Wednesday. (Emrah Gurel/The Associated Press)

With the scale of the disaster becoming ever more apparent, Turkey's disaster management agency said the number of injured was above 38,000.

Affected areas span 450 kilometres, and a disaster declaration is in effect for 10 provinces.

Canada deploys disaster assessment team

The Canadian Disaster Assessment Team (CDAT) is en route to Turkey, and will assess the situation on the ground and what, if any, assistance Canada might be able to provide, a senior federal government official told CBC News.

CDAT is a group of experts from Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) that deploys to disaster zones, assesses need on the ground, and recommends whether to send assets from CAF or Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). The federal government makes the final decision on any deployment of assistance.

A collapsed building is seen side on. People are walking between slabs of concrete that look almost like trenches.
Rescue crews search a collapsed building in Hatay, Turkey, on Wednesday. (Cemal Yurttas/DIA/The Associated Press)

The team en route to Turkey had fewer than 10 members and would spend at least a few days in the country, CBC News has learned.

Relatives visit makeshift morgues

The initial quake toppled thousands of buildings including hospitals, schools and apartment blocks, injured tens of thousands, and left countless people homeless in Turkey and northern Syria.

Turks stepped over hundreds of bodies in stadiums and parking lots across the country on Wednesday, carefully lifting blankets in an attempt to identify loved ones. 

A before-and-after aerial shot of a residential neighbourhood is shown.
A general view of buildings before Monday's earthquake is shown in Nurdagi, Turkey, from an image captured on Sept. 6, 2019. (Maxar Technology/Reuters)

Reuters journalists in Kahramanmaras saw around 50 bodies draped in blankets on the floor of a sports hall. Family members searched for relatives among the dead.

Kneeling on the auditorium floor, a woman wailed with grief and embraced a body wrapped in a blanket.

Meanwhile, a two-day container blaze at Turkey's southern port of Iskenderun has been brought under control, Turkey's maritime authority said on Wednesday, but ships are still being diverted to other facilities.

WATCH | Children hoisted in air to widespread cheers after rescues: 

Cheers ring out in northern Syria for every rescue

2 months ago
Duration 1:06
Frantic searches are followed by cheers in Bisina, Syria, as rescuers find more children alive after a powerful earthquake.

Syrian rescuers struggle to reach disaster zones

In Syria, already devastated by 11 years of war, the confirmed toll climbed to at least 2,950 late on Wednesday night.The quake killed people as far south as Hama, some 100 kilometres from the epicentre.

In the town of Jandaris in northern Syria, rescue workers and residents said dozens of buildings had collapsed.

Standing around the wreckage of what had been a 32-apartment building, relatives of people who had lived there said they had seen no one removed alive. A lack of heavy equipment to remove large concrete slabs was impeding rescue efforts.

Rescue workers have struggled to reach some of the worst-hit areas, held back by destroyed roads, poor weather and a lack of resources and heavy equipment. Some areas are without fuel and electricity.

WATCH | Syrians fend for themselves and wait for aid that isn't coming: 

'And now the earthquake': Disaster in the wake of Syria’s civil war

2 months ago
Duration 4:30
A rescue worker in Syria says the earthquake has been catastrophic for people who’ve already endured so much misery due to their country’s ongoing civil war. Still, there are signs of hope among the ruins.

The World Health Organization will send a high-level delegation to co-ordinate its response as well as three flights with medical supplies, one of which is already on its way to Istanbul, Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing on Wednesday. WHO has released $3 million for its initial response.

Rob holden, WHO incident manager for the earthquake, said many people need support with the "basics of life," such as clean water and shelter in worsening weather conditions.

"We are in real danger of seeing a secondary disaster, which may cause harm to more people than the initial disaster if we don't move with the same intention and intensity as we are doing on the search and rescue side," he said.

Several workers and onlookers are shown standing in rubble in front of a multi-storey building as a crane operates nearby.
Members of an Algerian rescue team, along with Syrian army soldiers, search for survivors at the site of a damaged building, in Aleppo, Syria, on Wednesday. (Firas Makdesi/Reuters)

World's deadliest quake since 2011

Aid officials voiced particular concern about the situation in Syria, where humanitarian needs were already greater than at any point since the eruption of a conflict that has partitioned the nation and is complicating relief efforts.

The head of the World Health Organization has said the rescue efforts face a race against time, with the chances of finding survivors alive slipping away with every minute and hour.

WATCH | 'I don't know anything': Canadians wait to hear fate of relatives:

Canadians from Turkey, Syria anxiously wait to hear from loved ones

2 months ago
Duration 1:59
Some Canadians with ties to Turkey and Syria are still anxiously waiting for updates on their loved ones following Monday’s disastrous earthquakes. Meanwhile, community members are rapidly gathering donations of money and supplies to send overseas.

The region sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 were killed in similarly powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkey in 1999.

The toll in Syria and Turkey makes it the world's deadliest quake since 2011, when an earthquake in Japan triggered a tsunami, killing nearly 20,000 people. The year before that, over 100,000 people were killed by a magnitude 7.0 quake in Haiti.

With files from Reuters