Deaths exceed 2,600 as catastrophic quakes ravage Turkey, Syria
- An earthquake of 7.9 magnitude struck central Turkey and northwest Syria on February 6th, 2023, killing over 2,600 people and injuring hundreds.
- The earthquake was felt in Cyprus and Lebanon and caused many buildings to collapse.
- Turkish authorities declared a "level 4 alarm" calling for international assistance and the US was "profoundly concerned" about the quake and ready to provide any needed assistance.
- The focus of authorities is on search and rescue efforts, and multiple aftershocks have been reported following the initial earthquake. The area is known to be regularly hit by strong earthquakes.
A huge earthquake killed more than 2,600 people across a swathe of Turkey and northwest Syria on Monday, with freezing winter weather adding to the plight of the many thousands left injured or homeless and hampering efforts to find survivors, Reuters reports.
The magnitude 7.8 quake brought down whole apartment blocks in Turkish cities and piled more devastation on millions of Syrians displaced by years of war.
The worst tremor to strike Turkey this century, it came before sunrise in harsh weather and was followed in the early afternoon by another large quake of magnitude 7.7.
Hundreds were still believed to be trapped under rubble, and the toll was expected to rise as rescue workers searched mounds of wreckage in cities and towns across the area, Reuters and the AFP reported.
It was not immediately clear how much damage had been done by the second quake, which like the first was felt across the region and endangered rescuers struggling to pull casualties from the rubble.
In Turkey, the death toll stood at 1,651, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said, and 11,119 people were recorded as injured. At least 968 people were killed in Syria, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue workers in the northwestern region controlled by insurgents, reports Reuters.
"We were shaken like a cradle. There were nine of us at home. Two sons of mine are still in the rubble, I'm waiting for them," said a woman with a broken arm and injuries to her face, speaking in an ambulance near the wreckage of a seven-storey block where she had lived in Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey.
Poor internet connections and damaged roads between some of the worst-hit cities in Turkey's south, homes to millions of people, hindered efforts to assess and address the impact.
Temperatures in some areas were expected to fall to near freezing overnight, worsening conditions for people trapped under rubble or left homeless. Rain was falling on Monday after snowstorms swept the country at the weekend.
It is already the highest death toll from an earthquake in Turkey since 1999, when a tremor of similar magnitude devastated the heavily populated eastern Marmara Sea region near Istanbul, killing more than 17,000.
President Tayyip Erdogan, who is preparing for a tough election in May, called it a historic disaster and the worst earthquake to hit Turkey since 1939, but said authorities were doing all they could.
"Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts although the winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night makes things more difficult," he said.
Turkish state broadcaster TRT showed a building collapse in the southern province of Adana after the second quake. It was not immediately clear if it was evacuated.
In Syria, already wrecked by more than 11 years of civil war, the health ministry said 461 people had been killed and more than 1,326 injured. In the Syrian rebel-held northwest, a United Nations spokesperson said 255 people had died.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said the earthquake would only add to the suffering of millions of Syrians already enduring a humanitarian crisis due to the civil war.
In the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, Reuters journalists saw dozens of rescue workers searching through a mound of debris, all that was left of a big building, and hauling off bits of wreckage as they looked for survivors. Occasionally they raised their hands and called for quiet, listening for sounds of life.
Men carried a girl wrapped in blankets from a collapsed building in the city. In Izmir, drone footage showed rescue workers stood atop a hill of rubble where a building once stood, working to lift slabs of masonry.
Footage circulated on Twitter showed two neighbouring buildings collapsing one after the other in Syria's Aleppo, filling the street with billowing dust.
Two residents of the city, which has been heavily damaged in the war, said the buildings had fallen in the hours after the quake, which was also felt in Cyprus and Lebanon.
'Like the apocalypse'
In the Syrian rebel-held town of Jandaris in Aleppo province, a mound of concrete, steel rods and bundles of clothes lay where a multi-storey building once stood.
"There were 12 families under there. Not a single one came out. Not one," said a thin young man, his eyes wide open in shock and his hand bandaged.
Raed Fares of the Syrian White Helmets, a rescue service in rebel-held territory known for pulling people from the ruins of buildings destroyed by air strikes, said they were in "a race against time to save the lives of those under the rubble".
Abdul Salam al Mahmoud, a Syrian in the town of Atareb, said it felt "like the apocalypse".
The casualty toll in northwestern Syria was expected to increase, a spokesperson for the U.N. office for coordinating humanitarian affairs in northwestern Syria said.
"It just adds on to all the layers of suffering," said Madevi Sun-Suon, the spokesperson.
In the Syrian government-held city of Hama, a Reuters journalist saw an apparently lifeless child carried from the ruins of a building.
Syrian state television showed rescue teams searching for survivors in heavy rain and sleet. President Bashar al-Assad held an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the next steps, his office said.
In the Turkish city of Malatya, a rescue worker crawled into a collapsed building, trying to identify a survivor trapped under the wreckage, in footage released by Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD).
"What colour are you wearing? Are you wearing pink? Please take care of yourself for the moment, I cannot see anything else," the rescue worker could be heard saying.
Footage on broadcaster CNNTurk showed the historic Gaziantep Castle was severely damaged.
Offers of Help
Erdogan said 45 countries had offered to help the search and rescue efforts.
The United States was "profoundly concerned" about the quake and was ready to provide assistance, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck at a depth of 17.9 km. It reported a series of earthquakes, one of 6.7 magnitude.
The region straddles seismic fault lines.
Suffering of displaced Syrians exacerbated
The powerful 7.8 magnitude quake that struck before dawn on Monday wreaked new damage and suffering in Syria's last rebel-held enclave, already wrecked by years of fighting and bombardment and housing millions of displaced Syrians who had fled their homes during the country's civil war, reports AP
Hospitals and clinics were flooded with injured. In the enclave, centered in Idlib province, many of the displaced live in dire conditions in makeshift camps. Many others there and in neighboring government-held areas are housed in buildings weakened by past bombings and left even more vulnerable to shocks from earthquakes.
The quake caused total and partial damage to buildings in at least 58 villages, towns and cities in northwestern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor.
Northwestern Syria declared 'disaster zone'
The White Helmets civil defense agency declared northwestern Syria a "disaster zone" after a powerful earthquake centered in southeastern Türkiye jolted the wider region early on Monday.
In a statement, the rescue agency called the situation in northwestern Syria "catastrophic" amid building collapses and scores of deaths, reports the Anadolu Agency.
The White Helmets appealed for urgent help "amid lack of capabilities and services, a shortage of shelters, and stormy and freezing weather."
The agency also called for more pressure on the Syrian regime and its allies "to ensure that no attacks will be launched against quake-struck areas."
This is a developing story and will be updated.