Ankara/Beirut, Feb 7 (EFE).- More than 3,600 people have died and more than 18,000 others suffered injuries in two powerful earthquakes that rattled an area of south-central Turkey and northwestern Syria.
Thousands of buildings were brought down by Monday’s quakes and resulting aftershocks, and a search remains ongoing to find survivors amid the rubble and low temperatures.
The most recent casualty count in Turkey, announced in the wee hours of Tuesday by Vice President Fuat Oktay on Twitter, put the death toll at 2,379 and the number of injured at nearly 15,000.
Across the border in Syria, which has been gripped by a civil war for more than a decade, the current death toll in government-controlled and rebel-held areas stands at nearly 1,300. More than 3,400 people in that country are listed as injured.
The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recalled Monday that 4.1 million people live in opposition-controlled areas of Syria that were pummeled by the quakes and “who rely on humanitarian assistance, the majority, women and children.”
“UN and partners are monitoring the situation on the ground amidst information flow constraints due to chronic telecommunication disruptions and power shortages,” the OCHA added. “Infrastructural damages are difficult to assess at this time and roads have been reportedly blocked in both Turkey and northwest Syria.”
In a statement released by state-controlled news agency SANA, Syria’s Foreign Ministry called on the UN, NGOs and government organizations to support Damascus’ efforts to respond to the “humanitarian catastrophe.”
In Turkey, authorities said more than 3,700 buildings had been destroyed or severely damaged and that the government on Tuesday plans to begin the controlled evacuation of people from the 10 provinces most affected by the natural disaster.
The United States, the EU, the United Kingdom, Italy, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Israel, among others, pledged their support and assistance on Monday, while the Netherlands, Romania, Russia and Azerbaijan flew in rescue teams.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a total of 45 nations have offered to provide assistance.
Gas cuts and power outages occurred in several of the 10 most-affected Turkish provinces and cracks have appeared at some reservoirs, although authorities say they did not suffer structural damage.
A first earthquake of magnitude-7.7 struck west of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, capital of the like-named province, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (AFAD) said.
That was followed by a series of aftershocks and then a similarly huge temblor in the early afternoon, which struck about 80 km north of the first in Turkey’s Kahramanmaras province and measured magnitude-7.6, it added.
Erdogan said the quakes were the most powerful to strike Turkey since the Erzincan earthquake in 1939, warning that the number of casualties was expected to rise further as rescue operations are carried out.
Low temperatures and snowfall in the affected region, including mountainous, difficult-to-access areas, are hampering rescue efforts.
Even so, an 18-year-old woman in Kahramanmaras province was found alive 12 hours after the temblor, while in the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakir a man was rescued after being trapped for 14 hours, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
One of the symbols of the enormous destruction was the historic Roman-era castle in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, which has stood for more than 1,700 years and sustained major damage in the first earthquake.
Also suffering heavy damage was an ancient citadel in the northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Turkish authorities announced school closures in the 10 most-affected provinces and also suspended all sports competitions. EFE