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Fatalities continue to rise from earthquakes in Turkiye, Syria

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ANTAKYA, Turkiye -

The number of people killed in the Feb. 6 earthquakes that devastated parts of southern Turkiye and northern Syria continues to rise. As chances of finding more survivors dwindled, some foreign search teams that rushed in to help have started leaving.

Here's a look at key developments Thursday from the aftermath of the earthquakes:

DEATH TOLL RISES IN TURKIYE

Turkiye's disaster management agency, AFAD, revised the country's death toll to 36,187. That pushed the combined reported death toll for Turkiye and Syria to 39,875.

More than 108,000 people were injured in Turkiye in the 7.8 magnitude quake that struck at 4:17 a.m. local time and a magnitude 7.5 quake the first temblor likely triggered nine hours hours later.

A 17-year-old girl was rescued Thursday morning, 248 hours after the original quake, from the debris of a collapsed building in Kahramanmaras, a city located near the epicentre, Turkiye's state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

The girl, Aleyna Olmez, told reporters from her hospital bed that she was well and tried to pass the time by distracting herself. "I had nothing with me," she said.

Hacer Atlas, a rescuer who was involved in reaching Olmez, told Anadolu: "First we held her hand, then we took her out. She is in a very good condition. She can communicate. I hope we will continue to receive good news about her."

INCOMPLETE PICTURE IN SYRIA

The United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Syria said the country's death toll is likely to rise further as teams scramble to remove rubble in hard-hit areas.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Muhannad Hadi defended the U.N.'s response to the disaster, which many in Syria have criticized as slow and inadequate. Hadi said the UN urged "everybody to depoliticize the humanitarian situation and focus on supporting us to reach the people."

The U.N. has reported a death toll of about 6,000 for all of Syria, including 4,400 in the country's rebel-held northwest. That figure is higher than those reported by government authorities in Damascus and civil defence officials in the northwest, who have reported 1,414 and 2,274 deaths respectively.

If accurate, it would push the combined deaths in Syria and Turkiye to well above 42,000.

"We're hoping that this number will not increase by much," Hadi said. "But from what we are seeing … the devastation of this earthquake is really not giving us a lot of hope that this will be the end of it."

The global chief of the Red Cross said after a visit to Aleppo, Syria's largest city, that the impact on access to housing, water, fuel, and other basic necessities could make another cholera outbreak there "possible."

Aleppo witnessed some of the worst fighting of the country's ongoing civil war and experienced a cholera outbreak in late 2022. Jagan Chapagain, who is secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said families staying in makeshift shelters without adequate heating urgently need permanent housing.

"They are still living in very basic conditions in very, very cold school rooms," he told The Associated Press in an interview. "If this continues for a long period of time, then there will be health consequences."

Chapagain said the disaster also has been ruinous for Syrians' mental health.

"If the conflict had broken their backs, I think this earthquake is breaking their spirit now," he said.

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 southern Turkiye's hard-hit city of Adiyaman.

Team leader Ioannis Papastathis told the Anadolu Agency late Wednesday that he was leaving Turkiye 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 earthquakes in Turkiye 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 Turkiye to ratify Sweden and Finland's memberships in the alliance, stressed that the two Nordic countries were among countries showing solidarity with Turkiye. Sweden, Stoltenberg added, would hold an international donor conference in March.

Turkiye has held up the two countries' applications to join in NATO, arguing Finland and Sweden need to crack down on groups Ankara considers to be national security threats.

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Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkiye. Associated Press writers Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan and Abby Sewell in Beirut contributed.

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