A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit southern Turkey and northern Syria early Monday, toppling buildings and killing at least 641 people. With hundreds and hundreds injured and hundreds more trapped under the rubble, the toll is expected to rise as rescuers dig through the rubble in towns and villages across the region.
On both sides of the border, residents shaken by the pre-dawn earthquake rushed outside on a cold, rainy and snowy winter night. Buildings were razed and strong aftershocks continued.
Rescuers and residents rushed to search for survivors under the rubble of their homes in several towns, working through tangles of metal and chunks of concrete.
Turkey’s disaster and emergency management agency said at least 284 people had been killed in seven Turkish provinces. The agency said 440 people were injured. The death toll in areas controlled by the Syrian government has risen to 237 with more than 630 injured, according to Syrian state media. At least 120 people have been killed in rebel-held areas, according to the White Helmets, the emergency organization in opposition areas.
In the Turkish city of Adana, a resident said three buildings near his home collapsed. “I don’t have the strength anymore,” heard a survivor cry out from under the rubble as rescuers tried to reach him, said resident, journalism student Muhammet Fatih Yavus. Further east in Diyarbakir, cranes and rescue teams hurried people on stretchers off a mountain of crepe concrete floors that was once an apartment building.
On the Syrian side of the border, the earthquake destroyed opposition-held areas that are teeming with some 4 million people displaced from other parts of Syria by the country’s long civil war. Many of them live in dilapidated conditions with little healthcare, with Russian-backed Syrian forces surrounding the area and occasionally carrying out airstrikes. Rescuers said area hospitals were packed.
“We fear the dead number in the hundreds,” Muheeb Qaddour, a doctor, said by phone from Atmeh town, referring to the entire rebel-held area. Raed Salah, the leader of the White Helmets, said entire neighborhoods had collapsed in some areas.
The earthquake, felt as far away as Cairo, struck an area that was shaped by more than a decade of civil war in Syria. Millions of Syrian refugees live in Turkey. The part of Syria affected by the earthquake is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-controlled enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. The quake was centered 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 hours later in the day, with the strongest measuring 6.6, Turkish authorities said.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan released a statement saying, “The United States is deeply concerned by reports of today’s destructive earthquake in Turkey and Syria. We are ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary. President Biden has directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess U.S. response options to assist those most affected. We will continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with the Turkish government.
Many other countries have also offered to help. Among them: France, Germany, Greece and — War-torn Ukrainewhose president, Volodomyr Zelenskyy, said Ukraine was “close to the friendly Turkish people” and ready to help, Reuters news agency reported.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that “search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched” to quake-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 Defense Ministry said the Turkish Armed Forces had set up an air corridor to allow search and rescue teams to reach the quake area, according to Reuters.
Turkey’s maritime authority said the port of Iskenderun in southern Turkey was damaged by the quake, but operations were continuing at other ports, Reuters reported.
Oil was flowing as usual through two major pipelines in Turkey, Reuters said, citing an energy official but adding that operations at the Ceyhan oil terminal in southern Turkey had been suspended, according to the report. Tribeca shipping agency.
A gas pipeline was damaged and gas flow was interrupted to three provinces and nearby areas, Reuters said citing Turkish gas pipeline operator BOTAS.
Turkey’s Akkuyu nuclear power plant, which is under construction, was not damaged by the earthquake, Reuters said citing an official from the Russian company that built the plant.
Buildings are reported to have collapsed in a strip stretching from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Hama to Diyarbakir in Turkey, more than 200 miles to the northeast.
In Turkey, people trying to leave disaster areas have caused traffic jams, hampering the efforts of emergency teams trying to reach disaster areas. Authorities have urged residents not to use the roads. Mosques in the region have been opened to shelter people unable to return to homes damaged by near-freezing temperatures.
In Diyarbakir, rescue teams called for silence as they tried to listen to survivors under the rubble of an 11-storey building. Rescuers pulled one man out, carrying him on a stretcher through a dense crowd of hundreds of people anxiously watching the rescue efforts. A gray-haired woman cried before being escorted away by a man, while a rescue worker wearing a white helmet 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 “disastrous”, adding that entire buildings had collapsed and people were trapped under the rubble. . Civil Defense urged people to evacuate buildings to congregate in open areas. Emergency rooms were full of injured people, said Amjad Rass, president of the Syrian American Medical Society.
In Damascus, buildings shook and many people took to the streets in fear.
The earthquake rocked residents of Lebanon from their beds, shaking buildings for about 40 seconds. Many Beirut residents left their homes and took to the streets or drove their cars away from buildings.
The quake came as the Middle East experiences a snowstorm that is expected to continue through Thursday.
Turkey sits atop major fault lines and is frequently rocked by earthquakes.
Some 18,000 people were killed in powerful earthquakes that struck northwestern Turkey in 1999.