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The window for saving people after the earthquake in Turkey and Syria is closing

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Turkey, rescue crews looking for people trapped by Monday's 7.8 magnitude earthquake are entering a grim phase, finding more dead bodies than survivors. More than 11,000 people have been killed by the quake in Turkey and northern Syria. NPR's Peter Kenyon is reporting from the city of Adana and joins us. Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us what you saw today in terms of the recovery effort.

KENYON: Well, I saw a city where a number of areas look fine, but some neighborhoods are scarred by cracked, tilting or totally collapsed buildings. In one case, I saw a tower block that had literally been ripped in half vertically. One side of the building was standing up, didn't look too bad but the other lay crumbled in pieces of rubble beside it. Similar scenes, of course, are playing out across the border in Syria where thousands more people died. Turkey's trying to open two more border crossings to deliver aid to Syria. But here in Adana, I also saw scenes of fearful family members watching large rescue crews carefully picking slabs of concrete from a collapsed building. Inside, they believed, were survivors waiting to be rescued. Unfortunately in that case, what I saw was crews finding corpses instead of survivors, and anxious family members turning away in despair.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us anything about some of the people who died in that neighborhood?

KENYON: Well, I was in the Cukurcuma (ph) district here in Adana, and I was watching the effort to clear away rubble from an apartment building. When I had a conversation with a man who said he lived in that building and had escaped safely, but he had a sad story about his neighbors. And the man, Omer Delioglu (ph), said his neighbors had escaped to safety at the same time he did, but then they made a fatal mistake. Here's a bit of what he told me.

OMER DELIOGLU: (Non-English language spoken).

KENYON: He said they were all outside and fine. But then his neighbors, against the orders of the police, decided to run back into the building to retrieve some belongings. And that's when they got caught in a violent shake and were killed. I'm sure that won't be the last sad story we hear from this earthquake.

SHAPIRO: And we're entering this phase now where experts believe fewer and fewer survivors will be found. Can you sense that change among the people you talk to?

KENYON: Yes. As you can imagine, there's a dominant theme, of course, of shock and sadness, knowing that as bad as what they're looking at is, other cities, towns and villages in Turkey have suffered even greater damage. But yes, there's a growing anger at the Turkish government as well for not being better prepared for another big quake. And, you know, this is an issue that goes back many years. Turkey's always been vulnerable to earthquakes. Huge efforts are put forward to improve the chances of survival for people in Turkey. There was a deadly earthquake in 1999 about this same size, killed more than 17,000 people. That really galvanized efforts to do better major projects, widespread shoring up of buildings, a number of things. But once again, they proved to be of little avail in Monday's quake.

SHAPIRO: How is the Turkish president responding to the criticism as he speaks to the people of his country, particularly given that he faces reelection in a few months?

KENYON: Well, that's right. That is the bigger context for him at least. And he's been sounding very much on the defensive. First of all, he was quiet for the first two days after the quake - didn't say much of anything about it. Today, he did visit some of the hardest hit sites, but his main message appeared to be that this was a force majeure, an event so powerful that no defense against it was possible. And in the meantime, opposition politicians are very critical of Erdogan, saying he only visited the hard-hit sites after the main secular opposition leader basically taunted him. The opposition was rebuilding, helping to work with communities to repair some of the damage. And the opposition leader, who could be in line to challenge Erdogan in presidential elections, was harshly critical. And at the same time, some commentators seem astonished that Erdogan's tone - surprised that the president would speak out at a time of national tragedy and sorrow by lashing out at those who were criticizing him. Now many are wondering how he'll proceed when it comes to standing for another term in office.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Adana, Turkey. Thank you.

KENYON: Thanks, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.