More than 500 killed in Turkey, Syria after powerful earthquake
(Update 2: Updates Turkey casualty figures, adds details, changes headline, lede, minor edits)
Ankara/Beirut, Feb 6 (EFE).- More than 500 people have been killed and more than 2,800 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 2,232 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 search teams and planes have been deployed for rescue work in 10 provinces.
In 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. It cited information 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 rescuers who operate in opposition-controlled areas of the country, declared a state of emergency in northwestern Syria, where it said there is a “catastrophe” and that “dozens of victims have been recovered” from the rubble.
“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 said.
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 66 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.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that “search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched to the areas affected by the earthquake” that was felt in “many parts of our country.”
“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage, and we continue our work,” he said.