More than 1,400 killed after huge earthquakes in Turkey, Syria
(Update 4: updates casualty toll, changes headline, lede, edits throughout)
Ankara/Beirut, Feb 6 (EFE).- Over 1,400 people have been killed and thousands more injured after two massive earthquakes struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said there were at least 912 dead and more than 5,300 injured in the country, while authorities in neighboring Syria have reported 547 deaths and 1,382 injuries.
A magnitude-7.4 earthquake struck Kahramanmaras province at around 4.17am, at a depth of just 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.
That earthquake was followed by another huge tremor in the early afternoon, which struck about 80 kilometers north of the first and measured M7.6 according to AFAD, while dozens of strong aftershocks have also been reported, hampering efforts to free people trapped under destroyed buildings.
Photographs and footage showed victims being carried out from piles of rubble, as well as collapsed buildings and crushed vehicles in Turkey.
Turkish authorities have declared a “level 4 alarm” calling for international assistance, with nearly 2,000 search personnel and 150 vehicles, as well as disaster supplies, deployed to the 10 most affected provinces.
In government-held areas of Syria, at least 326 people have been killed and 1,042 injured, the Ministry of Health said according to state news outlet Sana, which only includes data for areas of the country controlled by Damascus.
In opposition-controlled zones, over 200 people have been killed and more than 400 injured, according to the White Helmets (Syrian Civil Defense), a group of civilian rescuers who operate in rebel-held areas of the country.
“Death toll from earthquake in northwest Syria now at least 221 with at least 419 injured. Difficulty in rescue efforts as hundreds remain trapped under rubble and heavy equipment needed. Number expected to rise as hundreds of families (are) still trapped,” the group said on Twitter.
“Destruction, devastation, and collapse of buildings. … 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.”
The first earthquake was reportedly felt in Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Lebanon. Authorities in Italy warned of a potential tsunami risk to the country’s coast, but later lifted the alert.
The airports of Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras and Hatay have been closed, while heavy snowfall in Malatya is also hampering rescue efforts and worsening conditions for both survivors who have been rescued and those who are still trapped.
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.
“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage, and we continue our work,” Erdogan said on Twitter.
The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Israel have said they are ready to help, while the Netherlands, Romania, Russia and Azerbaijan were flying in rescue teams Monday.