Your Friday Briefing: 20,000 Dead in Turkey and Syria

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The death toll from the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria surpassed 20,000 as rescue efforts faltered, even as the first U.N. aid convoy reached Syria.

“We can call it the disaster of the century,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a news conference in the Turkish city of Osmaniye.

Truck shortages and blocked roads were among the many hurdles that rescue teams faced as they worked to unearth victims and help desperate survivors. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless in subfreezing temperatures.

In Kahramanmaras, a hard-hit Turkish city near the quake’s epicenter, survivors were looking for missing loved ones among masses of lifeless bodies. In Hatay, a parking lot outside a hospital served as an open-air morgue. There, hundreds of families searched for deceased relatives, opening and closing body bags, discouraged by the countless rows of corpses.

The Chinese balloon that was shot down by a U.S. fighter jet last week had several antennas and tools capable of collecting communications, U.S. officials said.

The Biden administration released intelligence about the balloon to counter China’s claims that it was a civilian machine, used mainly for weather research, and that it had drifted off course.

The balloon’s equipment “was clearly for intelligence surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment on board weather balloons,” the State Department said in a statement.

While the balloon was still in the air, American U-2 surveillance planes took images of it. The balloon had several antennas “likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications” and solar panels large enough to produce power to operate “multiple active intelligence collection sensors.”

U.S. officials say China has sent balloons over more than 40 countries in a global spying effort. For surveillance, balloons have some advantages over satellites. They can hover in one place and fly lower to produce clearer images and pick up more signals from the ground.

Were secrets compromised? U.S. officials have not determined what sites the balloon was targeting. While officials say they are confident the balloon did not get any sensitive data on U.S. nuclear sites, they are unsure what it did collect. They expect the debris from the downed balloon to provide more insight.

North Korean state media released photos of a nighttime military parade in Pyongyang this week that featured at least 15 ICBMs or ICBM mock-ups, more than in any previous military parade. The new missile that was displayed may have been a mock-up, experts said, but the North has often shown mock-ups before proceeding with actual missile tests.

All ​three ICBMs that North Korea has tested so far have relied on​ liquid fuel, which, experts said, make them easier to target for pre-emptive strikes because it takes hours to load liquid fuel onto missiles before they are launched.

What’s a Japanese mobster to do in retirement? Join a softball team.

Lives lived: Burt Bacharach’s songs matched the romantic optimism of the 1960s. He died at 94.

How does “Call Me” become “Fax Me” and then “Text Me”? The sweet messages on candy hearts, which have been around for more than a century, require careful editing from year to year to trim dated slogans.

Since the pandemic, one company has introduced keep-your-head-up encouragements like “Fear Less” as well as pet-themed phrases — a nod to all the pandemic puppy acquisitions. The evolution of the conversation heart speaks volumes about the state of our lives and loves.

More Valentine’s Day reads: Browse our Modern Love archives for tales of love and woe.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Have a great weekend! — Amelia and Mariah

P.S. Doug Schorzman will be our next Asia editor.

“The Daily” is about San Francisco’s struggle to recover from the pandemic.

You can always reach us at [email protected].


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