Powerful earthquake shakes Turkey and Syria, killing more than 3,400 people
“My grandson is 1 and a half years old. Please help them, please. We can’t hear from them or hear from them since morning. Please, they were on the 12th floor,” Imran Bahur cried outside his destroyed building in the Turkish city of Adana. Her daughter and her family have still not been found.
Tens of thousands of homeless people in Turkey and Syria had to spend a night in the cold. In Gaziantep in Turkey, a provincial capital about 33 kilometers (20 miles) from the epicentre, people have taken refuge in shopping malls, stadiums and community centers. Mosques in the area have been opened to provide shelter.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared seven days of national mourning.
The earthquake, which was centered in Kahramanmaras province in southeastern Turkey, sent residents of Damascus and Beirut rushing to the streets and was felt as far away as Cairo.
The earthquake has deepened misery in a region that has experienced enormous suffering over the past decade. On the Syrian side, the area is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-controlled enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is home to millions of civil war refugees.
In the rebel-held enclave, hundreds of families remained trapped in the rubble, the opposition emergency organization, called the White Helmets, said in a statement. The region is teeming with some 4 million people displaced from other parts of the country by war. Many of them live in buildings already destroyed by past bombardments.
The strained health facilities quickly filled with injured people, emergency workers said. Others had to be emptied, including a maternity ward, according to the medical organization SAMS.
More than 7,800 people have been rescued in 10 provinces, according to Orhan Tatar, an official with Turkey’s disaster management authority.
The region sits atop major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 people were killed in equally powerful earthquakes that struck northwestern Turkey in 1999.
The US Geological Survey measured Monday’s earthquake at 7.8, with a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles). Hours later, a magnitude 7.5 quake struck more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.
The second tremor of the afternoon caused the overturning of a multi-storey building on the street of the Turkish city of Sanliurfa. The structure disintegrated into rubble and kicked up a cloud of dust as passersby shouted, according to video from the scene.
Thousands of buildings have collapsed in a wide area stretching from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Hama to Diyarbakir in Turkey, more than 330 kilometers (200 miles) to the northeast.
In Turkey alone, more than 5,600 buildings were destroyed, authorities said. Hospitals were damaged and one collapsed in the Turkish town of Iskenderun.
Extremely cold temperatures could reduce the time rescuers have to rescue trapped survivors, said Dr Steven Godby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University. The difficulty of working in areas plagued by civil war would further complicate rescue efforts, he said.
Offers of aid – from search and rescue teams to medical supplies and money – have poured in from dozens of countries, as well as the European Union and NATO. The vast majority were for Turkey, with Russian and even Israeli promises of aid to the Syrian government, but it was unclear whether some would go to the devastated rebel-held pocket in the northwest.
The opposition Syrian Civil Defense described the situation in the enclave as “disastrous”.
The opposition-held area, centered on Idlib province, has been under siege for years, with frequent Russian and government airstrikes. The territory depends on a flow of aid from neighboring Turkey for everything from food to medical supplies.
At a hospital in Idlib, Osama Abdel Hamid said most of his neighbors had died. He said their shared four-story apartment building collapsed as he, his wife and three children ran for the exit. A wooden door fell on them and acted as a shield.
“God gave me a new breath of life,” he said.
In the small town of Azmarin held by Syrian rebels in the mountains near the Turkish border, the bodies of several dead children, wrapped in blankets, were taken to hospital.
Turkish TV channels broadcast screens split into four or five, showing live coverage of rescue efforts in the worst-hit provinces.
In the town of Kahramanmaras, rescuers pulled two children alive from the rubble, and one was seen lying on a stretcher on the snowy ground. Turkish TV channel CNN Turk said a woman was found alive in Gaziantep after a rescue dog detected her.
In Adana, about 20 people, some wearing emergency life jackets, used power saws atop the concrete mountain of a collapsed building to saw through space for survivors to climb out or be helped.
“I don’t have the strength anymore,” a survivor heard screaming from under the rubble of another building in Adana earlier in the day as rescuers tried to reach him, said resident, journalism student Muhammet Fatih Yavuz.
In Diyarbakir, hundreds of rescue workers and civilians formed lines through a mountain of wreckage, passing shattered concrete, household effects and other debris as they searched for trapped survivors while diggers were digging into the rubble below.
At least 2,316 people have been killed in 10 Turkish provinces, with more than 13,000 injured, according to Turkish authorities. The death toll in areas controlled by the Syrian government stood at 656 people, with some 1,400 injured, according to the health ministry. In the rebel-held northwest of the country, groups operating there said the death toll was at least 450, with several hundred injured.
Huseyin Yayman, a lawmaker in Turkey’s Hatay province, said several of his family members were trapped under the rubble of their collapsed homes.
“There are so many other people who are also trapped,” he told HaberTurk TV by phone. “There are so many buildings that have been damaged. People are in the street. It’s raining, it’s winter.