More than 640 dead in Turkey and Syria after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake
A 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit southern Turkey and northern Syria early Monday, killing more than 640 people and destroying buildings.
The quake prompted a search for survivors among the rubble in towns and villages across the region. The death toll is expected to rise.
People in both countries were awakened by the quake several hours before dawn and rushed outside in the cold, rain and snow. Dozens of buildings in towns across the region were toppled.
Rescuers and residents searched for survivors under the rubble of destroyed buildings in several towns in both countries.
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In the Turkish city of Adana, witnesses said they heard a person calling for help from under the rubble of a building.
“I don’t have the strength to go on,” the person reportedly said.
In Diyarbakir, cranes and rescue teams worked on a pile of crepe concrete floors that once made up an apartment building.
In Syria, the earthquake crushed opposition-held areas teeming with an estimated 4 million people displaced from other parts of Syria due to the country’s continuing civil war. Many live in dilapidated conditions with limited health care.
At least 11 people were killed in the town of Atmeh, and many more were buried under the rubble, according to a town doctor, Muheeb Qaddour.
“We fear the dead number in the hundreds,” Qaddour said of the rebel-held northwest. “We are under extreme pressure.”
The tremor was felt as far away as Cairo. It was centered about 60 miles from the Syrian border.
At least 20 aftershocks followed the initial quake hours later, with the strongest measuring a magnitude of 6.6, Turkish authorities said.
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote on Twitter that search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched to affected areas.
“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as quickly as possible and with the least damage,” he wrote.
Turkey’s disaster and emergency management agency has reported at least 76 dead in seven Turkish provinces, as well as 440 injured. The death toll in government-controlled areas of Syria has risen to 237 with at least 630 injured, according to Syrian state media. At least 47 people were reportedly killed in rebel-held areas.
Turkish authorities have urged residents not to drive on the roads as people trying to leave damaged areas have caused traffic jams, hampering rescue efforts. Mosques in the region have opened to shelter people unable to return to damaged homes as temperatures approach freezing.
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In northwest Syria, the opposition Syrian Civil Defense said the situation in the rebel-held region was “disastrous” with entire buildings having collapsed and people trapped under rubble . Civil Defense advised people to evacuate buildings and congregate in open areas.
The US Geological Survey said the quake was centered about 20 miles from Gaziantep. It was centered at 11 miles deep.
The quake also woke residents of Lebanon, shaking buildings for about 40 seconds. Many Beirut residents fled their homes and took to the streets or drove their cars away from buildings.
The Associated Press contributed to this report