Disasters & Accidents

Death toll rises to more than 600 in Turkey, Syria after powerful earthquake

(Update 3: Adds casualty figures from opposition-controlled Syria, adds details, countries offering aid, changes headline, lede, minor edits)

Ankara/Beirut, Feb 6 (EFE).- More than 600 people have been killed and more than 3,100 injured in Turkey and Syria after a powerful, shallow earthquake hit southeastern Turkey before dawn on Monday.

At around 4.17 am local time (01:17 GMT), a magnitude-7.4 earthquake struck Kahramanmaras province at a depth of 7 kilometers (4.3 miles), Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said.

The US Geological Survey put the tremor at M7.8 at a depth of 17.9 km near the city of Gaziantep.

At least 284 people have been killed and 2,323 people injured in Turkey, according to Vice President Fuat Oktay at 07:00 GMT.

Authorities declared a “level 4 alarm” calling for international assistance, as nearly 2,000 search personnel and 150 vehicles, as well as disaster supplies, have been deployed to 10 provinces.

In government-held areas of Syria, at least 237 people have been killed and 639 injured, mostly in the governorates of Aleppo, Hama, Tartous and Latakia, reported state news outlet Sana. The information was from the Ministry of Health, so therefore only includes data for areas of the country controlled by Damascus.

The northwestern governorate of Idlib, the last opposition stronghold in the country, and several areas in Aleppo governorate are outside the control of the government and located near the epicenter of the earthquake, so it is feared the death toll could be much higher than that reported by Sana.

The White Helmets (Syria Civil Defense), a group of civilian rescuers who operate in those rebel-held areas of the country, declared a state of emergency in northwestern Syria, where it said there is a “catastrophe.”

It recorded more than 120 deaths and more than 230 injured people in Idlib and the countryside of Aleppo just before 08:00 GMT.

“The death toll is expected to rise as hundreds of families are still trapped under rubble,” it tweeted.

“Destruction, devastation, and collapse of buildings. Hundreds of injuries, dozens of deaths, many trapped under the rubble or stranded in the winter cold. We call on the international community to take action,” it wrote earlier.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad chaired an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the damage and “necessary procedures.”

There have also been reports the earthquake was felt in Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Lebanon. Authorities in Italy warned of a potential tsunami risk to the country’s coast, but later withdrew the alert.

At least 78 aftershocks, including the largest measuring M6.6, have followed in the hours since the earthquake, according to the AFAD.

Photographs and footage showed victims being carried out from mountains of rubble, as well as collapsed buildings and crushed vehicles in Turkey.

The airports of Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras and Hatay have been closed, while heavy snowfall in Malatya makes rescue efforts difficult and aggravates the conditions of those trapped and those who have made it to safety outside.

Yildirim Kurt, a farmer based near Kahramanmaras, told EFE by phone early Monday morning that the people in the area were “in a panic.”

“We woke up to a strong earthquake. Our house did not collapse but everything inside the house has fallen to the ground,” he said, adding that temperatures in the area were below zero.

“Our neighbors’ house has collapsed. We have a problem with communications. We are all outside, in the open air. I was able to speak with relatives in nearby towns. They say that many buildings have collapsed there,” Kurt said.

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