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Rescuers search for survivors after a major quake hits Turkey and Syria

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In a city called Adana, Turkey, there's a row of apartment buildings.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Most are still standing after an earthquake. One has collapsed like a missing tooth. People stand nearby as rescuers dig for survivors.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken).

INSKEEP: NPR's Ruth Sherlock was at that scene and joins us now from the earthquake zone. Ruth, hello.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: What was it like to go there?

SHERLOCK: Well, you know, I flew into Adana city on this plane where many of the passengers were Turkish citizens. And, Steve, they were returning home to a destroyed city, to a destroyed area, destroyed lives. One of the men two rows away from me had just heard that his wife and brother were killed in the earthquake. His children are still missing. The airport itself was full of rescue workers arriving from countries all around the world. They flew in with rescue dogs and equipment. And Adana city itself has been spared from the worst of the devastation. But it's strange to say that because even here, 11 buildings have collapsed in the shocks, I'm told. I went to one building, the one you mentioned, and that was this residential high-rise of some 15 floors that had collapsed to rubble. People were gathered at a playground near the building, watching rescue efforts in the near-freezing temperatures. And many of those that were watching had loved ones still under the rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken).

SHERLOCK: So here, there's two elderly women and a man, and they were hugging and talking about a daughter that had died. She was so happy, one said. We couldn't imagine that it would end like this, another one said.

INSKEEP: What else did you see and hear?

SHERLOCK: Well, look at this site. At this one site, there were 10 bulldozers clawing at the rubble. And every time they thought they'd come across someone, all the machines would stop and fall silent, and everybody would look with kind of bated breath as rescuers would move the debris with their bare hands and listen for signs of life. Often, though, this was a false alarm. It happened again and again. And I spoke to one man. He didn't want to be named, but he'd been watching the efforts for over 10 hours.

Do you know people inside?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes. We have some relatives.

SHERLOCK: God.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There are still ones who are under.

SHERLOCK: Still missing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: They're missing.

SHERLOCK: So he's saying, you know, it's his brother-in-law's family. He says one person was pulled out alive in the morning, but then three other relatives were pulled out dead. Two more are still missing. Now, of course, the big fear is aftershocks. It's cold here - near-freezing temperatures at night - but people are sleeping in cars in the streets and burning debris to keep warm.

INSKEEP: Ruth, you mentioned you're in one of the less damaged cities. What are you hearing from elsewhere?

SHERLOCK: Well, you know, in other parts of the country, the roads are impenetrable. Supplies are already running thin. And even - if you can imagine it, Steve, the situation's even worse across the border in Syria. That is a country that's in the midst of a civil war. And there are parts of the country that are even lacking the machinery to help dig people out of the rubble. The Syrian government is calling on the United Nations to help with everything from rescue efforts to food aid. And in opposition-held parts of the north, where there's over 4 million people, whole streets have been flattened. Hospitals are overwhelmed. And like I said, you know, rescue workers have very little equipment to work with.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ruth Sherlock is in Adana, Turkey. Thank you so much.

SHERLOCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.