Devastating earthquakes rock Turkey and Syria leaving thousands dead


A second powerful earthquake has struck Turkey just hours after the worst quake in 80 years wrought destruction across the country and neighbouring Syria, killing more than 2,000 people and wounding many more. 

The second quake, which hit south-east Turkey on Monday afternoon local time, registered a magnitude of 7.5, according to the US Geological Service. Its epicentre was about 60 miles from the earlier 7.8 magnitude quake that struck just after 4am causing huge destruction, levelling thousands of buildings and sending people fleeing into the streets.

Turkish state media said at least 1,498 people had been confirmed dead, citing the country’s disaster agency, while President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said thousands more had been hurt across 10 Turkish provinces. The death toll was expected to rise further.

More than 430 people were also killed in government-controlled areas of Syria and hundreds more injured, according to official figures. In north-west Syria, the last pocket of the country still under opposition control, the Syria Civil Defence said more than 380 civilians had died.

Erdoğan called the quake the “biggest disaster” since the 1939 Erzincan earthquake, which killed about 33,000 people. An initial Turkish assessment showed almost 3,000 buildings had been destroyed across the affected areas in the first big quake, centred on the southern Turkish province of Kahramanmaraş, near the Syrian border.

Turkey’s government has dispatched rescue teams to the affected areas, which span at least 500km from the epicentre. Military and cargo planes carrying supplies have also been sent, with about 9,000 people working on the effort.

The quake was also felt throughout the region, in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Israel and Egypt. In Lebanon, people ran out into the streets to flee shaking buildings through several waves of strong aftershocks.

Map of 7.8 magnitude earthquake which struck central Turkey at 4:17am local time, Feb 6

The worst affected parts of Syria were those already devastated by 12 years of a brutal war that has shattered the state. Syrian TV showed footage of rescue teams searching for survivors, with health officials asking the public to help rescue neighbours and take them to hospitals.

“I thought the room was going to fall on our heads, the house was shaking so hard,” said Munsef Hamoud, an elderly man living in the Aleppo suburbs. “Several houses collapsed in our neighbourhood and we heard people screaming from under the rubble.”

Residents in several Turkish provinces also fled into the streets in near-freezing temperatures, rain and snow, according to witnesses. Television footage showed rescue workers digging through rubble in the town of Pazarcık, close to the epicentre. In the south-eastern city of Gaziantep, large sections of a 17th-century fortress were destroyed.

Rescuers pulled a child out of the rubble of a collapsed apartment block in Adana province, while in the city of Diyarbakır earthmoving equipment cleared mangled steel and concrete as rescue workers called out in search of survivors.

The rescue efforts have been compounded by dozens of aftershocks. Turkey’s interior minister Süleyman Soylu said his country was ready to accept international aid.

In Syria’s north-west Idlib province, “hundreds of families” were still trapped under the rubble, according to the Syria Civil Defence. The area, which is controlled by an Islamist movement and is one of the last remaining enclaves for the Syrian opposition, is home to about 4.6mn people, the majority requiring humanitarian aid, according to UN data.

Many of those people have been displaced from elsewhere in the country during Syria’s civil war. As such, some live in informal settlements on the outskirts of cities, in open fields and in abandoned buildings, hollowed out or flattened by air strikes during the war. Much of the area’s medical infrastructure has been destroyed in the war after hospitals were routinely targeted.

A video published by the Syrian American Medical Society, which supports 36 medical facilities in the north-west, showed a chaotic emergency room at a hospital in Aleppo. “Our hospitals are overwhelmed with patients filling the hallways,” a statement from the group said.

Turkey is criss-crossed by faultlines and small tremors are a near-daily occurrence. Monday’s earthquake was the largest to hit the country since 1939. A huge earthquake, measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale, struck Istanbul and the surrounding provinces in 1999, killing more than 17,000 people.

Seismologists have blamed a lack of enforcement of building codes for high fatality rates in Turkish disasters. Last year, the urban and environment minister said the country’s housing stock included 6.8mn homes deemed “at risk” in the event of an earthquake.

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