More than 1,700 dead as huge earthquake strikes Turkey, Syria

2023-02-06 15:00:52 GMT2023-02-06 23:00:52(Beijing Time) Sina English

More than 1,700 people were killed and thousands injured on Monday when a huge earthquake struck central Turkey and northwest Syria, pulverizing apartment blocks and heaping more destruction on Syrian cities already devastated by years of war.

The magnitude 7.8 quake, which hit in the early darkness of a winter morning, was the worst to strike Turkey this century. It was also felt in Cyprus and Lebanon. It was followed in the early afternoon by another large quake, magnitude 7.7.

It was not immediately clear how much damage had been done by the second quake, also felt across the region as rescue workers were struggling to pull casualties from rubble in bitter weather.

"We were shaken like a cradle. There were nine of us at home. Two sons of mine are still in the rubble, I'm waiting for them," said a woman with a broken arm and injuries to her face, speaking in an ambulance near the wreckage of a seven-story block where she had lived in Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan revealed that 1,014 people were killed, 5,383 injured, and 2,818 buildings had collapsed in the country.

Erdogan said he could not predict how much the death toll would rise as search and rescue efforts continued.

"Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts although winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night make things more difficult," he pointed out.

Meanwhile, China said it is willing to provide emergency humanitarian assistance in accordance with the needs of earthquake victims.

Xu Wei, spokesman for the China International Development Cooperation Agency, said that China expresses its sympathies and concerns over the casualties and property losses in Turkey and Syria caused by the earthquake.

Live footage from Turkish state broadcaster TRT showed a building collapse in the southern province of Adana after the second quake. It was not immediately clear if the building was evacuated.

In Syria, the health ministry said about 430 people had been killed and 1,000 injured. In the Syrian rebel-held northwest, rescuers said 255 people had died.

In Diyarbakir, journalists saw dozens of rescue workers searching through a mound of debris, all that was left of a big building, hauling off bits of wreckage as they looked for survivors. Occasionally they raised their hands and called for quiet, listening for sounds of life.

Men carried a girl wrapped in blankets from a collapsed building in the city.

"We woke up to a big noise and severe shaking. There were two aftershocks right after that," said Meryem, 29, from the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, near the epicenter.

"I was so scared, thought it will never stop. I took some things for my one-year-old son and left the building."

Footage circulated on Twitter showed two neighboring buildings collapsing one after the other in Syria's Aleppo, filling the street with billowing dust. Two residents of the city, which has been heavily damaged in the war, said the buildings had fallen in the hours after the quake.

In the Syrian rebel-held town of Jandaris in Aleppo province, a mound of concrete, steel rods and bundles of clothes lay where a multi-story building once stood.

"There were 12 families under there. Not a single one came out. Not one," said a thin young man, his eyes wide open in shock and his hand bandaged.

Raed Fares of the Syrian White Helmets, a rescue service in rebel-held territory known for pulling people from the ruins of buildings destroyed by air strikes, said they were in "a race against time to save the lives of those under the rubble."

Abdul Salam al Mahmoud, in the town of Atareb, said it felt "like the apocalypse."

Syrian state TV showed footage of rescue teams searching for survivors in heavy rain and sleet. President Bashar al-Assad held an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss next steps, his office said.

People in Damascus and in the Lebanese cities of Beirut and Tripoli ran into the street and took to their cars to get away from buildings in fear of collapse, witnesses said.

Footage on CNNTurk showed the historic Gaziantep Castle was severely damaged.

The United States Geological Survey said the quake struck at a depth of 17.9 kilometers. It reported a series of quakes, one of 6.7 magnitude.

The region straddles seismic fault lines.

It was Turkey's most severe quake since 1999, when one of similar magnitude devastated Izmit and the eastern Marmara Sea region near Istanbul, killing more than 17,000.