Strong quake rocks Turkey and Syria, killing more than 1,900

AZMARIN, Syria (AP) — A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook much of Turkey and Syria early Monday, collapsing hundreds of buildings and killing more than 1,900 people. Hundreds were still believed to be trapped under rubble and the toll was expected to rise as rescue workers searched piles of rubble in cities and towns across the region.

On both sides of the border, on a cold, rainy and snowy night, residents roused from their sleep by the predawn quake rushed outside. Buildings became stacks of pancake bottoms, and larger aftershocks, or new tremors, including one nearly as powerful as the first, continued to shake the region.

Rescue workers and residents in several cities searched for survivors, working their way through a tangle of metal and concrete. A hospital in Turkey collapsed and patients, including newborns, were evacuated from facilities in Syria.

A man searches collapsed buildings in Diyarbakir, southern Turkey, early Monday, February 6, 2023. (Depo Photos via AP)

In the Turkish city of Adana, a resident said three buildings near his home collapsed. “I have no strength left,” shouted one survivor from under the rubble when rescue workers tried to reach him, said local journalism student Muhammet Fatih Yavuz.

“Because the rubble removal continues in many buildings in the earthquake area, we do not know how high the number of dead and injured will increase,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Hopefully we emerge from these catastrophic days in unity and solidarity as a country and a nation.”

The tremor, which was concentrated in Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, was felt as far away as Cairo. It sent residents of Damascus rushing into the streets and shaking people awake in their beds in Beirut.

It hit a region marked by more than a decade of civil war in Syria on both sides of the border. On the Syrian side, the affected strip is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is hosting millions of refugees from that conflict.

The opposition-held regions of Syria are full of about 4 million people displaced by fighting from other parts of the country. Many of them live in buildings that have already been destroyed by previous bombings. Hundreds of families remained trapped in rubble, opposition relief organization White Helmets said in a statement.

Strained health facilities and hospitals were quickly filled with the injured, emergency workers said. Others had to be emptied, including a maternity hospital, according to medical organization SAMW.

People and rescue teams try to reach trapped residents in collapsed buildings in Adana, Turkey, Monday, February 6, 2023. (IHA Agency via AP)

The region lies on major fault lines and is frequently rocked by earthquakes. A similarly powerful earthquake in north-west Turkey in 1999 killed around 18,000 people.

The US Geological Survey measured the quake on Monday at a magnitude of 7.8. Hours later, a 7.5 magnitude explosion struck more than 100 kilometers away. An official with Turkey’s Civil Protection Agency said it was a new earthquake, not an aftershock, although its impact is not immediately clear. Hundreds of aftershocks were expected after the two tremors, Orhan Tatar told reporters.

Thousands of buildings have reportedly collapsed in a wide area stretching from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Hama to Turkey’s Diyarbakir, more than 330 kilometers (200 miles) northeast. A hospital has collapsed in the Mediterranean coastal city of Iskenderun, but victims are not immediately known, said Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay.

TV channels in Turkey broadcast in four or five split screens showing live coverage of rescue operations in the hardest-hit provinces. In the town of Kahramanmaras, rescuers pulled two children alive from the rubble, one lying on a stretcher on the snowy ground.

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

The damage evident in photos of the affected areas is typically associated with significant loss of life – while bitterly cold temperatures and the difficulty of working in civil war-torn areas only complicate rescue efforts, said Dr. Steven Godby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University.

In Turkey, people trying to leave quake-hit regions caused traffic jams and hampered emergency teams’ efforts to reach the affected areas. Authorities asked residents not to go out on the streets. Mosques across the region have been opened to provide shelter to people unable to return to their damaged homes in freezing temperatures.

In Diyarbakir, hundreds of rescue workers and civilians formed lines over a pile of rubble and handed down broken concrete, household items and other debris while searching for trapped survivors while excavators dug through the rubble below.

In north-west Syria, the quake added new problems to the opposition-held enclave around Idlib province, which has been besieged with frequent Russian and state airstrikes for years. The area depends on a flow of aid from nearby Turkey for everything from food to medical supplies.

The Syrian civil defense of the opposition described the situation there as “catastrophic”.

At a hospital in Darkush in Idlib, Osama Abdelhamid said most of his neighbors had died. He said their four-story building they shared collapsed as he, his wife and three children ran for the exit. A wooden door fell on them, serving as a shield.

“God gave me a new life,” he said.

In the small Syrian rebel town of Azmarin, in the mountains on the Turkish border, the bodies of several dead children, wrapped in blankets, were taken to a hospital.

The General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums in Syria said the earthquake caused some damage to the Crusader-built marqab, or watchtower castle, on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Part of a tower and parts of some walls collapsed.

In Turkey, meanwhile, the quake damaged a historic hilltop castle in the center of the provincial capital Gaziantep, about 33 kilometers from the epicenter. Parts of the fortress walls and watchtowers were leveled and other parts badly damaged, pictures from the city showed.

The USGS said the quake was 11 miles deep.

According to the country’s civil protection agency, more than 1,100 people were killed and around 7,600 injured in ten Turkish provinces. The death toll in government-held areas of Syria rose to over 430 people, with about 1,280 injured, according to the health ministry. In the country’s rebel-held northwest, groups operating there said the death toll was at least 380, with many hundreds injured.

Huseyin Yayman, an MP from Turkey’s Hatay province, said several of his family members were trapped under the rubble of their collapsed houses.

“There are so many other people who are also locked in,” he told HaberTurk TV over the phone. “There are so many buildings that have been damaged. people are on the streets. It’s raining, it’s winter.” Strong quake rocks Turkey and Syria, killing more than 1,900

Dais Johnston

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