ANTAKYA: Cold, hunger and despair gripped hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by earthquakes in Turkey and Syria on Thursday, while hopes faded of many more people being found alive amid the ruins of cities.

The death toll from the quakes, which struck early on Monday morning, passed 19,000 on Thursday across both countries.

That surpasses the more than 17,000 people killed in 1999 when a similarly powerful quake hit Turkey’s more densely populated northwest.

A Turkish official said the disaster posed “very serious difficulties” for the holding of an election scheduled for May 14 in which President Tayyip Erdogan has been expected to face the toughest challenge in his two decades in power.

With anger simmering over the slow delivery of aid and delays in getting the rescue effort underway, it is bound to play into the vote should it still go ahead.

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