The death toll from a massive earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday rose above 7,100 on Tuesday, with rescue workers searching for trapped survivors.

Officials and medics said 5,434 people have died in Turkey and 1,712 in Syria, bringing the total to 7,146.

Officials estimate that 13.5 million people in Turkey have been directly affected by the earthquake-prone country's most powerful tremor in nearly a century. 

An untold number are still buried under the rubble of thousands of apartment towers -- many only recently constructed -- that crumbled from the pre-dawn jolt and its seemingly ceaseless aftershocks. 

Allegations of flagrant building code violations are rampant across Turkey.

- 'Everything turned to dust' -

Twenty buildings were damaged by the quake in Diyarbakir, a mostly Kurdish city that has suffered from waves of deadly violence between militants and Turkish government forces.

Seven of them have completely collapsed, creating huge gaps in streets lined with apartment towers.

Sleepless, physically exhausted and morally spent, the rescuers tend to discover frightening scenes under all that debris.

At one site, they found the bodies of an entire family -- mother, father and two children.

The parents appeared to be trying to shield the children with their bodies when their remains were found, witnesses told AFP.  

Baver Tanrikut, 30, shudders to think about what happened to his mother and sister.

He heard them following him out the door when everyone woke up and ran for their lives when their building began to shake.

"The moment I set foot outside, I started to run and when I looked back, everything turned to dust," he recalled.

"The building collapsed. I saw my sister buried under rubble up to her waist, bleeding. She was shouting 'mum, mum'. My mum, who could barely walk, was trapped inside."

- 'We will pray' -

Tanrikut was not alone.

Wrapped in blankets, huddling around fires to warm themselves from the freezing rain, or simply reciting the Koran, the survivors have few thoughts other than about those they left behind.

Rescuers and civilians look for survivors under the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras.Rescuers and civilians look for survivors under the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras.

"My mother, my father and sister are trapped in this building," said 28-year-old Yesim through tears, urging rescue workers to "hurry up".

"There are not enough rescue workers," she lamented. 

"We want a strong team. The rescue effort is progressing very slowly."

Local municipality official Ismail Pendik was trying to keep his cool while handling complaints and consoling families at a car salon that has been converted into a temporary shelter.

The most important thing now, Pendik insisted, was complete and utter silence to help rescuers do their work.

"We need silence," he stressed. "The next three days are very critical. The rescue teams are working round the clock. We will pray, we will never lose hope from Allah." 

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