Death Toll Rises To 1200, Thousands Injured After 7.8 Magnitude Earthquake Hits South-Eastern Turkey and North-Western Syria Early Hours of Monday
The most powerful earthquake in nearly a century struck Turkey and Syria early Monday, killing over 1,400 people in their sleep, levelling buildings and causing tremors felt as far away as Greenland.
The 7.8-magnitude night-time tremor, followed hours later by a slightly smaller one, wiped out entire sections of major Turkish cities in a region filled with millions of people who have fled the civil war in Syria and other conflicts.
The head of Syria’s National Earthquake Centre, Raed Ahmed, called it “the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the centre”.
At least 560 people died in rebel and government-controlled parts of Syria, state media and medical sources said.
Another 912 people died in Turkey, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose handling of one of the biggest disasters of his two decades in power could prove consequential to his re-election chances in polls due in May.
The initial quake was followed by more than 50 aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude tremor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue work on Monday afternoon.
AFP reporters and witnesses felt the second jolt as far apart as the Turkish capital Ankara and the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Irbil.
Shocked survivors in Turkey rushed out into the snow-covered streets in their pyjamas, watching rescuers dig through the debris of damaged homes with their hands.
“Seven members of my family are under the debris,” Muhittin Orakci, a stunned survivor in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, told AFP.
“My sister and her three children are there. And also her husband, her father-in-law and her mother-in-law.”
The rescue was being hampered by a winter blizzard that covered major roads in ice and snow. Officials said the quake made three major airports in the area inoperable, further complicating deliveries of vital aid.
Erdogan conveyed his sympathies and urged national unity, saying “We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage.”
The major quake was felt in Cyprus, Lebanon and Syria, collapsing dozens of buildings and triggering a search for survivors under the rubble in snowy streets.
The U.S. Geological Survey said quake was centered about 33 kilometers (20 miles) from Gaziantep, a major city and provincial capital. It was about 26 kilometers (16 miles) from the town of Nurdagi.
The major quake was centered 18 kilometers (11 miles) deep, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. A strong 6.7 temblor rumbled about 10 minutes later.
Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. Duzce was one of the regions hit by a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999 — the worst to hit Turkey in decades. That quake killed more than 17,000 people, including about 1,000 in Istanbul.