The 7.8 magnitude earthquake destroyed entire apartment buildings in Turkish cities and further devastated millions of Syrians displaced by years of war.
The worst earthquake to hit Turkey this century, it occurred before sunrise in bad weather and was followed in the early afternoon by another large earthquake measuring 7.5.
“It was like the apocalypse,” said Abdul Salam al-Mahmoud, a Syrian from the northern town of Atareb. “It’s freezing cold and it’s raining heavily, and people need to be saved.”
The second earthquake was large enough to bring down other buildings and, like the first, was felt across the region, endangering rescuers struggling to pull the injured from the rubble.
In Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, a woman speaking next to the wreckage of the seven-storey block where she lived said: “We shook like a cradle. We were nine at home. Two of my sons are still in the rubble, I’m waiting for them.
She was nursing a broken arm and had facial injuries.
The earthquake was the largest recorded globally by the US Geological Survey since an earthquake in the distant South Atlantic in August 2021.
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In Turkey, the death toll stands at 1,651, according to the Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca said, and 11,119 people were recorded as injured. At least 968 people have been killed in Syria, according to figures from the government in Damascus and relief workers from the insurgent-controlled northwest region.
Poor internet connections and damaged roads between some of southern Turkey’s worst-hit cities, home to millions, have hampered efforts to assess and address the impact.
Temperatures in some areas are expected to drop to near zero overnight, worsening conditions for people trapped under rubble or left homeless. Rain was falling on Monday after snowstorms swept across the country over the weekend.
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It is already the highest toll from an earthquake in Turkey since 1999, when a tremor of a similar magnitude devastated the heavily populated eastern region of the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul, killing more of 17,000 people.
President Tayip Erdoganwhich is bracing 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.
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“Everyone puts their heart and soul into their efforts, although the winter season, the cold weather and the earthquake that occurs during the night make things more difficult,” he said.
Turkish public broadcaster TRT showed the collapse of a building in the southern province of Adana after the second quake. It was not immediately clear whether he had been evacuated.
In Syria, already devastated by more than 11 years of civil war, the health ministry said 538 people had been killed and more than 1,326 injured. In the Syrian rebel-held northwest, rescue workers said 430 people had died.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said the quake would only add to the suffering of millions of Syrians who are already suffering a humanitarian crisis due to the civil war.
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In the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, Reuters reporters saw dozens of rescuers digging through a mound of debris, all that was left of a large building, and carrying pieces of wreckage as they searched for survivors. Sometimes they raised their hands and called for silence, listening to the sounds of life.
Men carried a girl wrapped in blankets from a collapsed building in the city. In IzmirDrone footage showed rescuers standing atop a hill of rubble where a building once stood, working to lift masonry slabs.
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Images posted on Twitter show two neighboring buildings collapsing one after another in Syria Aleppofilling the street with a whirlwind of dust.
Two residents of the town, which was heavily damaged in the war, said buildings had fallen within hours of the quake, which was also felt in Cyprus and Lebanon.
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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 down there. Not a single one came out. Not one,” said a thin young man, his eyes wide in shock and his hand bandaged.
Raed al-Saleh of the Syrian White Helmets, a rescue service in rebel-held territory known for extracting people from the ruins of buildings destroyed by airstrikes, said they were engaged in “a race against time to save the lives of those under the rubble”. ”.
In the Syrian government-held town of Hama, a Reuters reporter saw an apparently lifeless child being 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 next steps, his office said.
Erdogan said 45 countries have offered to help search and rescue efforts in Turkey.
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 the Turkiye Disaster and Emergency Management Authority.
“What color are you wearing? Do you wear pink? Please take care of yourself at this time, I can’t think of anything else,” the rescue worker was heard saying.