Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted for the first time Friday that his government's search and rescue effort from this week's devastating earthquake did not go as quickly as hoped.
Erdogan has faced criticism from the quake's survivors about an insufficient number of rescuers and humanitarian aid being delivered in the first days of Turkey's biggest disaster in nearly a century.
The death toll from Monday's 7.8-magnitude tremor has surpassed 22,000 across southeastern Turkey and parts of Syria.
Nearly 19,000 of those deaths happened in Turkey.
Erdogan repeated an earlier admission that there had been "shortcomings" in his government's response.
But he appeared to go one step further by conceding that his teams could have responded more quickly.
"So many buildings were damaged that unfortunately, we were not able to speed up our interventions as quickly as we had desired," Erdogan said during a visit to the hard-hit southern city of Adiyaman.
He said rescuers had been slowed by a winter storm over the area that had made some roads impassable.
"Moreover, most public workers who would have conducted the first intervention and organisation were themselves under the collapsed buildings," Erdogan said.
He added that Turkey had now gathered "perhaps the world's largest search and rescue team" comprised of 141,000 across 10 affected provinces.
The Turkish leader also fired back at his critics heading into a crunch election the government plans for May 14.
Secular opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu this week blamed the huge number of buildings that toppled in the termor and its aftershock on state-connected "profiteers" who were not following proper construction codes.
Erdogan called out "opportunists who want to turn this pain into their political gain".
He also promised to rebuild the damaged region within a year.
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