By TANYA TITOVA and SUZAN FRASER
ANTAKYA, Turkey (AP) — The number of fatalities in the earthquake that devastated parts of southern Turkey and northern Syria is continuing to rise. As chances of finding more survivors have dwindled, some foreign search teams are beginning to leave.
Here’s a look at key developments Thursday from the aftermath of the earthquakes:
DEATH TOLL RISES
Turkey’s disaster management agency, AFAD, has raised the number of fatalities in Turkey from the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck parts of southern Turkey and northern Syria to 36,187. That pushed the combined death toll for Turkey and Syria to 39,875.
More than 108,000 people were injured in Turkey in the Feb. 6 quake as well as another strong tremor that it likely triggered hours later.
The death toll is certain to increase as search teams sifting through the rubble find more bodies.
SOME SEARCH TEAMS DEPART
Onlookers at Istanbul Airport clapped to display gratitude to a 27-member team of Greek rescuers who were heading back home after ending their mission to search for survivors in the hard-hit city of Adiyaman.
Team leader Ioannis Papastathis told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency late Wednesday that he was leaving Turkey with “unforgettable memories.”
“On the one hand, there was love and the warm welcome of the people, on the other hand, suffering. The destruction was huge. The weather was cold. These affected me a lot,” the agency quoted him as saying.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said close to 8,000 rescue and aid workers from 74 countries were still assisting Turkish teams in their efforts. Around 4,200 personnel from 15 countries have left, he said.
“I would like to thank each and every one of them,” Cavusoglu said during a joint news conference with his visiting counterpart from Costa Rica.
WORST DISASTER ON NATO TERRITORY
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has described the powerful earthquake that struck Turkey as the military alliance’s worst natural disaster.
“This is the deadliest natural disaster on alliance territory since the foundation of NATO,” Stoltenberg told reporters during a joint news conference with Cavusoglu in Ankara on Thursday. “We salute the courage of the Turkish first responders and we mourn with you.”
Stoltenberg, who is scheduled to visit the disaster area later, said the alliance had deployed thousands of emergency response personnel to support relief efforts.
“The focus going forward will be on reconstruction and supporting the displaced,” Stoltenberg said. He added that the alliance will be setting up temporary housing for thousands of people displaced by the quake while also using its airlifting capabilities to transport tens of thousands of tents.
Meanwhile, Stoltenberg, who is pressing Turkey to ratify Sweden and Finland’s membership in the alliance, stressed that the two Nordic countries were among countries showing solidarity with Turkey. Sweden, Stoltenberg added, would hold an international donor conference in March.
Turkey has been holding up the two countries’ membership in NATO, urging the two countries to crack down on groups Ankara considers to be national security threats.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.
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