Freezing temperatures deepened the misery Thursday for survivors of a catastrophic earthquake and series of aftershocks in Türkiye and Syria that killed more than 16,000 people, as rescuers raced to save countless people still trapped under rubble.
The death toll from Monday's 7.8-magnitude quake is expected to rise sharply as rescue efforts pass the 72-hour mark that disaster experts consider the most likely period to save lives.
“The first 72 hours are considered to be critical,” said Steven Godby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University in England. “The survival ratio on average within 24 hours is 74%, after 72 hours it is 22% and by the fifth day it is 6%.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday conceded "shortcomings" after criticism of his government's response to the earthquake, one of the deadliest this century.
Survivors have been left to scramble for food and shelter -- and in some cases watch helplessly as their relatives called for rescue, and eventually went silent under the debris.
"My nephew, my sister-in-law and my sister-in-law's sister are in the ruins. They are trapped under the ruins and there is no sign of life," said Semire Coban, a kindergarten teacher, in Turkey's Hatay province.
"We can't reach them. We are trying to talk to them, but they are not responding... We are waiting for help. It has been 48 hours now," she said.
Still, rescuers kept pulling survivors from the debris as the death toll continued to rise.
As criticism mounted online, Erdogan visited one of the hardest-hit spots, the quake's epicenter Kahramanmaras, and acknowledged problems in the response.
"Of course, there are shortcomings. The conditions are clear to see. It's not possible to be ready for a disaster like this," he said.
Twitter access returned on Thursday morning after the social network did not work on Turkish mobile networks for several hours Wednesday, according to AFP journalists and the NetBlocks web monitoring group.
Turkish officials had held talks with Twitter leaders after which deputy infrastructure minister Omer Fatih Sayan tweeted Thursday that Turkey expected the social network to cooperate more in the "fight against disinformation".
Temperatures plunged to minus-five degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit) in Gaziantep early Thursday, but the cold did not stop thousands of families from spending the night in cars and makeshift tents, too scared to stay in their homes or prohibited from returning to them.
Parents walked the streets of the southeastern Turkish city -- close to the epicenter of the earthquake -- carrying their children in blankets because it was warmer than sitting in a tent.
"When we sit down, it is painful, and I fear for anyone who is trapped under the rubble in this," said Melek Halici, who wrapped her two-year-old daughter in a blanket as they watched rescuers working late into Wednesday night.
Officials and medics said 12,873 people had died in Türkiye and at least 3,162 in neighboring Syria from Monday's quake, bringing the total to 16,035. Experts fear the number will continue to rise sharply.
Teams from more than two dozen countries have joined the local emergency personnel in the effort. But the scale of destruction from the quake and its powerful aftershocks was so immense and spread over such a wide area that many people were still awaiting help.