Over 2,600 people killed as powerful earthquakes rock Turkey and Syria

The pre-dawn quake, whose epicentre was near Turkey's Gaziantep, wiped out entire sections of cities in Turkey and war-ravaged Syria; it was followed by at least 20 aftershocks and two quakes.

Published: 06th February 2023 08:54 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th February 2023 07:39 AM   |  A+A-


A rescuer in Turkey reacts as he carries a body found in the rubble in Adana on February 6, 2023, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country's south-east. (Photo | AFP)

By Agencies

ANKARA (Turkey)/AZMARIN (Syria): The most powerful earthquake to strike Turkey and Syria in nearly a century killed over 2,600 people on Monday, sparked frantic rescues and was felt as far away as Greenland. It had its epicentre near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, which is 90 kilometres (60 miles) from the Syrian border. A major Turkish provincial capital, it consists of more than 2 million people.

At 4.17 am Monday, a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck at a depth of about 18 kilometres (11 miles), followed by dozens of aftershocks, wiping out entire sections of major Turkish cities in a region filled with millions who have fled Syria's civil war and other conflicts.

The border region has been shaped by more than a decade of war in Syria. Millions of Syrian refugees live in Turkey. The swath of Syria affected by the quake is divided between government-held and opposition-held areas.

The quake was felt as far away as Egypt's Cairo. It sent residents of Damascus rushing into the street, and jolted awake people in their beds in Lebanon's Beirut. Tremors were also felt in Cyprus.

According to United State Geological Survey (USGS), the earthquake was then followed by at least 20 aftershocks followed, some hours later during daylight, the strongest measuring 6.6.

Hours later, a second earthquake of 7.5 magnitude struck the Elbistan district of Kahramanmaras province in southern Turkey. Less than 24 hours later, a third earthquake of magnitude 6.0 struck central Turkey, USGS said.

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A Syrian man carries a dead young girl, in Azmarin town, in Idlib province north Syria, Feb. 6, 2023. (Photo | AP)

Buildings were reported collapsed in a swath from Syria’s cities of Aleppo and Hama to Turkey’s Diyarbakir, more than 330 kilometres (200 miles) to the northeast. A hospital collapsed in the Mediterranean coastal city of Iskenderun, but casualties were not immediately known, Turkey's vice president, Fuat Oktay, said.

The head of Syria's National Earthquake Centre, Raed Ahmed, called the pre-dawn quake "the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the centre". It resulted from strike-slip faulting at shallow depths and appears to be associated with either the East Anatolia fault zone or the Dead Sea transform fault zone. 

The region where the first earthquake occurred is known to be seismically active. Three earthquakes of magnitude 6 or larger have occurred in this region since 1970. The largest, a magnitude of 6.7, occurred on January 24, 2020. All of these earthquakes happened along or in the vicinity of the East Anatolia fault, USGS said.

Offers of help — from search-and-rescue teams to medical supplies and money — poured in from dozens of countries, as well as the European Union and NATO.

Bitterly cold temperatures and the difficulty of working in areas beset by civil war will only complicate rescue efforts, said Dr Steven Godby, an expert in natural hazards at Nottingham Trent University.

Hospitals packed with bodies

On both sides of the border, residents jolted out of sleep by the pre-dawn quake rushed outside on a cold, rainy, and snowy winter night, as buildings were flattened and strong aftershocks continued.

In the Turkish city of Adana, one resident said three buildings near his home collapsed. “I don’t have the strength anymore,” one survivor could be heard calling out from beneath the rubble as rescue workers tried to reach him, said the resident, journalism student Muhammet Fatih Yavus.

Further east in Diyarbakir, cranes and rescue teams rushed people on stretchers out of a mountain of pancaked concrete floors that was once an apartment building.

On the Syrian side of the border, the quake smashed opposition-held regions that are packed with some 4 million people displaced from other parts of Syria by the country’s long civil war.

Many of them live in decrepit conditions with little health care.

Rescue workers said hospitals in the area were packed.

Tragedy in Turkey

Shocked survivors in Turkey rushed out into the snow-covered streets in their pyjamas, watching rescuers dig through the debris of damaged homes with their hands.

People trying to leave the quake-stricken regions caused traffic jams, hampering the efforts of emergency teams trying to reach the affected areas. Authorities urged residents not to take to the roads.

"Seven members of my family are under the debris," Muhittin Orakci, a stunned survivor in Turkey's mostly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, told AFP. "My sister and her three children are there. And also her husband, her father-in-law and her mother-in-law."

Mosques around the region were being opened up as a shelter for people unable to return to damaged homes amid temperatures that hovered around freezing.

The rescue was being hampered by a winter blizzard that covered major roads in ice and snow. Officials said the quake made three major airports in the area inoperable, further complicating deliveries of vital aid.

Turkey's last 7.8-magnitude tremor was in 1939, when 33,000 died in the eastern Erzincan province.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that “search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched” to the areas hit by the quake.

In Diyarbakir, rescue teams called for silence as they tried to listen for survivors under the wreckage of an 11-story building. Rescue workers pulled out one man, carrying him on a stretcher through a dense crowd of hundreds of people anxiously watching the rescue efforts. 

Several buildings collapse

A famous mosque dating back to the 13th century partially collapsed in the province of Maltaya, where a 14-story building with 28 apartments that housed 92 people also collapsed.

In other cities, social media posts showed a 2,200-year-old hilltop castle built by Roman armies in Gaziantep lying in ruins, its walls partially turned to rubble.

Multi-storey apartment buildings full of residents were among the 3,400 structures reduced to rubble in Turkey, while Syria announced dozens of collapses, as well as damage to archaeological sites in Aleppo.

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A family who fled the war in Syria and live in Beirut, sit outside their home following an earthquake that hit neighbouring Turkey, Feb. 6, 2023. (Photo | AP)

New woes in Syria

Northwest Syria, which is an opposition-held enclave centered in the province of Idlib, has been under siege for years, with frequent Russian and government airstrikes. The territory depends on a flow of aid from nearby Turkey for everything from food to medical supplies.

The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense described the situation as “disastrous” adding that entire buildings have collapsed and people are trapped under the rubble.

In the small Syrian rebel-held town of Azmarin in the mountains by the Turkish border, the bodies of several dead children, wrapped in blankets, were brought to a hospital. Emergency rooms in the territory were full of injured, said Amjad Rass, president of the Syrian American Medical Society.

Meanwhile, officials cut off natural gas and power supplies across the region as a precaution, also closing schools for two weeks.

Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo -- Syria's pre-war commercial hub -- often collapsed due to the dilapidated infrastructure, which has suffered from lack of war-time oversight.

Ever-rising toll

Turkish government officials reported 1,651 fatalities, putting the combined total at 2,651. At least 1,000 people died across Syria, the government and rescuers said.

Huseyin Yayman, a legislator from Turkey's Hatay province, said several of his family members were stuck under the rubble of their collapsed homes.

“There are so many other people who are also trapped,” he told HaberTurk television by telephone. “There are so many buildings that have been damaged. People are on the streets. It’s raining, it’s winter.”

PHOTOS | Death toll and grief climb as huge quake topples buildings in Turkey, Syria

A collapsed building is seen following an earthquake in Pazarcik, in Kahramanmaras province, southern Turkey (Photo | AP)

Snowstorm underway

In Damascus, buildings shook and many people went down to the streets in fear.

The quake jolted residents in Lebanon from their beds, shaking buildings for about 40 seconds. Many residents of Beirut left their homes and took to the streets or drove in their cars away from buildings.

The earthquake came as the Middle East is experiencing a snowstorm that is expected to continue until Thursday.

Turkey sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 were killed in powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkey in 1999.

Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.

"The size of the aftershocks, which may continue for days although mostly decreasing in energy, brings a risk of collapse of structures already weakened by the earlier events," David Rothery, an earthquake expert at the Open University in Britain, told AFP.

Rescue workers and medical teams try to reach trapped residents in a collapsed building following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey (Photo | AP)

(With inputs from AP, AFP, and online desk)


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