Earthquake kills hundreds in Turkey and Syria, with hundreds more trapped under rubble
Follow the latest on the earthquake in Turkey
At least 300 people in Turkey and Syria have been killed following a large 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the early hours of Monday morning that could be felt as far away as Lebanon, Cyprus and Iraq.
The quake struck near the eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep where hundreds of buildings collapsed. Although authorities placed early tolls at 76 killed and 440 injured, rescue workers expected the number to rise quickly as they work to sift rubble and search for survivors.
“I have never felt anything like it in the 40 years I’ve lived,” said Erdem, a Gaziantep resident. “We were shaken at least three times very strongly, like a baby in a crib.”
In Syria, at least 111 people were killed and over 500 injured, state media reported. The Syrian American Medical Society (Sams) said it had to evacuate one of its hospitals in the Idlib village of Aldana, about 160km from Gaziantep, after it sustained “major damage” and was deemed unsafe.
“Sams hospitals are overwhelmed and patients are being treated in the hallways and on the floors. At least two Sams maternity hospitals sustained damages and were evacuated,” an official said.
Aleppo health officials told Syria’s state news agency Sana that casualties had been reported and several buildings had collapsed, including an eight-storey building in Hama city.
“Wounded people are still arriving in waves,” Aleppo’s health director, Ziad Hage Taha, told Reuters by telephone.
Turkey declared a “level 4 alarm” and urged the world to send assistance as President Tayyip Erdogan called the governors of eight affected provinces to gather information on the situation and rescue efforts, his office said in a statement.
Mr Erdogan sent his “best wishes” to all those affected by the quake.
“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage,” he said.
Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad was holding an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the next steps, his office said. Potentially complicating aid delivery is that the most affected regions of northern Syria are largely under the control of rebels and extremist groups still at war with Damascus and most aid to the area enters through the badly hit regions of Turkey.
The US Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.8 quake struck at a depth of 17.9 km. Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority that they recorded 42 aftershocks with the strongest measuring 6.6 magnitude.
The region straddles seismic fault lines however Monday’s quake was the strongest in nearly a century. In August 1999, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake near the city of Izmit killed more than 17,100 people and injured 50,000 others. More than 500,000 homes were destroyed, largely due to the widespread use of poor-quality building materials. Since then, Turkey has tried to improve regulations to prevent mass building collapses.
The scale of Monday’s quake is still being determined but in Malatya, 160km northeast of Gaziantep, authorities said at least 140 buildings had collapsed while in Othmania 95km to the east of Gaziantep, at least 35 buildings had been levelled.
Across eastern Turkey, emergency teams worked to free people trapped underneath the rubble.
Footage broadcast by local news channels showed residents sifting through large piles of debris in the dark while awaiting emergency rescue teams.
State broadcaster RTR showed rescue workers in Osmaniye province using a blanket to carry an injured man out of a collapsed four-storey building and putting him in an ambulance. He was the fifth to be pulled from the rubble, it said.
Health officials in the Syrian city of Hama said that a child was among the several dead from a family when their three-storey building collapsed, state news agency Sana reported.
A Syrian Civil Defence representative in Salkeen, near the Turkish border, said the situation in the city was catastrophic.
“Tens of buildings completely collapsed and there is an entire electricity blackout,” the representative said.
“All the residents are out on the streets out of fear that their buildings might collapse at any moment.”
Syria’s volunteer White Hemelt rescue teams were working to clear roads in Afrin after fears that heavy snow and freezing temperatures would also impede relief efforts needed to prevent a large uptick in deaths.
“Northern Syria does not have the capacity to treat the injured, let alone perform resuscitation efforts for the fallen. This is why we will be seeing the death toll rise like exponentially throughout the day,” said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Quake felt around the region
The earthquake was felt hundreds of kilometres away.
In the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, roads were congested as many residents sought shelter in their cars amid fears that their buildings would collapse. The scenes were repeated in Beirut and elsewhere.
In Lebanon, some residents reportedly ran out of their homes as they feared the possibility of more aftershocks after being jolted awake by the quake at around 3.20am by a 4.8 magnitude aftershock.
In the south, people stood in the street in the rain. As of 7am local time, there were no reports of deaths or injuries but the National News Agency reported that the shocks cracked a road in the southern city of Tyre.
Lama Fakih, director of Human Rights Watch Mena, said on Twitter that Lebanon was “where you know you’re experiencing an earthquake but all you can think about is the city being blown up”.
“It’s been 2.5 years but in our bodies, it feels like yesterday. This is what collective trauma feels like,” she wrote, referring to the Beirut blast that rocked the city in 2020.
Several people in Lebanon criticised the government’s lack of response to the aftershocks.
“Nothing, not even an emergency broadcast,” one user said on Reddit.
In Egypt, the state geophysics institute said a series of aftershocks measured at magnitude 6 were felt in a number of coastal cities and in Cairo, but there were no reports of casualties or damage to property.
Mohammed Safey, 40, who lives in Cairo, said he was awakened by the earthquake.
“I woke up thinking my dog was walking on top of me while I was sleeping,” he said.
Italy’s Civil Protection Authority warned of a possible tsunami, advising people to move away from coastal areas and seek higher ground, it said.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US was “profoundly concerned” by the reports of the earthquake.
“We stand ready to provide any and all needed assistance,” he said.
“President [Joe] Biden has directed USAid and other federal government partners to assess US response options to help those most affected. We will continue to closely monitor the situation in co-ordination with the government of Turkey.”
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry sent condolences for victims in Syria and Turkey and offered assistance after the “horrifying catastrophe”, state media said.