Standing in front of the flattened remains of a 10-story building in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, a man anxiously waits for news about his friend Mustafa, who is trapped beneath the rubble.
Alptekin Talanci worries that this week’s bitter weather, which has seen temperatures drop below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, might imperil his friend’s chances.
“Conditions are so bad that even if he could survive (the collapse), because of the cold, the hypothermia… I can’t believe he can make it,” Talanci told CNN on Tuesday.
Rescuers share his concern. Authorities have been racing against the clock to free survivors from the wreckage of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck early on Monday morning, destroying thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria.
Complicating rescue efforts is the possibility that still more buildings could collapse, as the region has experienced dozens of aftershocks since Monday’s quake.
More than 7,000 people in both countries have been killed, and Mustafa’s survival would be nothing short of a miracle, says Talanci.
“We are just praying and that’s all that I can say,” Talanci told CNN.
Nearby, residents who have lost everything huddle around small fires while wrapped in blankets, passing bowls of soup. They too are waiting for news of survivors.
A sense of hopelessness is etched on their faces amid the bitter cold.
At another destroyed building in Gaziantep’s suburb of Ibrahimli, rescuers slowly make their way down from a hill of smashed concrete. Drills and the sound of mechanized digging equipment ring through the area.
A distraught mother is there, waiting for news of her child, who was buried beneath the debris of a seven floor building. She shows rescuers pictures, in the hope they can find the child.
Only three of the 15 people who were in the apartment block at the time of its collapse have been rescued.
Grief is everywhere. A man cried outside another ruined building, telling CNN his parents are trapped inside it.
“This is the situation, which is the same for all,” he said desolately.
At the Gaziantep airport on Tuesday, hundreds of people waited for flights to resume. Turkey is used to natural disasters, but Monday’s quake, one of the strongest in the last century, has shaken the nation to its core. More aftershocks could still come.
A 28-year-old woman, who declined to share her name, said she and her boyfriend spent Monday night in their car and hoped to catch a rescue flight out to Istanbul.
They were lucky; their building did not collapse. But the woman told CNN she is too scared to return to it after the violent shaking of Monday’s quake left a “massive crack” in the structure.
All they have is one big bag, packed with identification, her laptop and few personal possessions.
“It feels surreal. Actually, I can’t believe that we lived through that and survived, when you see all the damage it caused,” she said.