A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocks Turkey and Syria, killing more than 600 people
A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria early Monday, collapsing buildings and killing at least 641 people. With hundreds upon hundreds injured and hundreds more trapped under rubble, the death toll was expected to rise as rescue workers combed debris in cities and towns across the region.
On both sides of the border, on a cold, rainy and snowy winter night, residents roused from their sleep by the predawn quake rushed outside. Buildings were leveled and strong aftershocks continued.
Rescuers and residents in several cities searched for survivors under the rubble of their homes and worked their way through tangles of metal and chunks of concrete.
At least 284 people were killed in seven Turkish provinces, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Agency. According to the agency, 440 people were injured. According to Syrian state media, the death toll in government-controlled areas of Syria rose to 237 with more than 630 injured. At least 120 people have been killed in rebel-controlled areas, according to the White Helmets, the emergency relief organization in opposition areas.
In the Turkish city of Adana, a resident said three buildings near his home collapsed. “I have no strength left,” shouted a survivor from under the rubble when rescue workers tried to reach him, said local journalism student Muhammet Fatih Yavus. Farther east in Diyarbakir, cranes and rescue teams were rushing people on stretchers out of a mound of pancake concrete floors that was once an apartment building.
On the Syrian side of the border, the quake devastated opposition-held regions home to around 4 million people displaced from other parts of Syria by the country’s long civil war. Many of them live in squalid conditions with little health care, while Russian-backed Syrian forces surround the area, sometimes conducting airstrikes. Rescue workers said hospitals in the area were overcrowded.
“We fear the death toll is in the hundreds,” Muheeb Qaddour, a doctor, said by phone from the city of Atmeh, referring to the entire rebel area. Raed Salah, the leader of the White Helmets, said entire neighborhoods had collapsed in some areas.
The quake, felt as far away as Cairo, hit a region that was being shaped more than a decade of civil war in Syria. Millions of Syrian refugees live in Turkey. The quake-affected part of Syria is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. The quake struck about 60 miles from the Syrian border outside the city of Gaziantep, a major Turkish provincial capital.
The US Geological Survey said the quake was 11 miles deep.
At least 20 aftershocks followed a few hours later in daylight, the strongest measuring 6.6, Turkish authorities said.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan issued a statement saying: “The United States is deeply concerned by the reports of today’s destructive earthquake in Turkiye and Syria. We are ready to provide any and all assistance required. President Biden has directed USAID and other federal government partners to review U.S. response options to help those most affected. We will continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with the Turkiye government.”
Many other nations also offered their help. Below: France, Germany, Greece and — war-torn Ukrainewhose President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was “close to the friendly Turkish people” and was ready to provide assistance, Reuters news service reported.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that “search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched to the areas affected by the quake”.
“We hope that together we can get through this disaster as quickly as possible and with as little damage as possible,” he wrote.
According to Reuters, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said Turkey’s armed forces have established an air corridor to allow search and rescue teams to travel to the earthquake zone.
Turkey’s Maritime Authority said the port of Iskenderun in southern Turkey was damaged by the quake, but operations at other ports are continuing, Reuters reported.
Oil was flowing through two major pipelines in Turkey as usual, Reuters said, citing an energy official, but adding that operations at the Ceyhan oil terminal in southern Turkey were suspended, according to the Tribeca shipping agency.
A gas pipeline was damaged and gas flow stopped in three provinces and nearby areas, Turkey’s state pipeline operator BOTAS was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Buildings were reported to have collapsed in a strip stretching from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Hama to Turkey’s Diyarbakir, more than 200 miles northeast.
In Turkey, people trying to leave quake-hit regions caused traffic jams and hampered emergency teams’ efforts to reach the affected areas. Authorities asked residents not to go out on the streets. Mosques in the region have been opened as a refuge for people unable to return to their damaged homes in freezing temperatures.
In Diyarbakir, rescue teams called for silence as they tried to listen for survivors under the rubble of an 11-story building. Rescuers pulled a man out and carried him on a stretcher through a dense crowd of hundreds of people anxiously watching the rescue efforts. A grey-haired woman wailed before being led away by a man while a white-helmeted paramedic tried to calm a crying girl who was also being cuddled by two friends.
In northwestern Syria, the opposition Syrian Civil Defense described the situation in the rebel-held region as “catastrophic,” adding that entire buildings had collapsed and people were trapped under the rubble. Civil Defense urged people to evacuate buildings to gather in open spaces. The emergency rooms are full of the injured, said Amjad Rass, president of the Syrian American Medical Society.
In Damascus, buildings shook and many people took to the streets in fear.
The tremor jolted residents of Lebanon from their beds and shook buildings for about 40 seconds. Many Beirut residents left their homes and took to the streets or drove their cars away from buildings.
The earthquake came as the Middle East is experiencing a snowstorm that is expected to last through Thursday.
Turkey lies on major fault lines and is frequently rocked by earthquakes.
About 18,000 people died in 1999 in a powerful earthquake in north-west Turkey.