Third major earthquake jolts Turkey, Syria within 18 hrs; death toll rises to 4,300

First earthquake of 7.8-magnitude hit early on Monday, followed in the evening by another two big ones — 7.6 and 6 on the Richter scale; first quake wipes out entire sections of major Turkish cities in the southeast region filled with millions of refugees of the Syrian civil war

Turkey earthquake
The first quake toppled buildings and sent panicked residents pouring out into a cold, rainy, and snowy winter night | Photo: Twitter/@omarsuleiman504

Turkey and Syria were jolted by three massive earthquakes on Monday (February 6), which left over 4,300 people dead and thousands injured.

Even as rescue efforts were on after the early-morning quake of 7.8 magnitude in southeast Turkey and Syria, a second quake of 7.6 magnitude hit Turkey’s south around 4.15 pm IST. This was followed by a third quake of magnitude 6. The three quakes hit the areas on Turkey -Syria border within a span of 18 hours.

The second earthquake struck south-eastern Turkey’s Kahramanmaras region, the country’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said. It added that the quake occurred at a depth of 7 km and the epicentre was Elbistan region of Kahramanmaras province. The jolt came even as the war-ravaged region was still trying to come to terms with the first quake.

According to Turkey’s head of disaster services, Yunus Sezer, at least 2,921 people were killed in Turkey and more than 15,800 injured, reported CNN. In Syria, the death toll is 1,451 according to the Syrian state news agency SANA. In the government-controlled areas, mostly in Aleppo, Hama, Latakia, and Tartus, 711 people have died, reported CNN. The “White Helmets” group, or the Syria Civil Defense, reported 740 deaths in opposition-controlled areas.


“I think we can expect the death toll to increase significantly,” Rick Brennan, the WHO’s regional emergency director for the Eastern Mediterranean, told Reuters. “There’s been a lot of building collapses and it will increase more significantly around the epicentre of the earthquake.”

India to send aid

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the world leaders who reached out to Turkey. “India stands in solidarity with the people of Turkey and is ready to offer all possible assistance to cope with this tragedy,” the PM said. India is also among the countries that are rushing aid to Turkey. The government has decided to send rescue teams, medical teams, and relief material.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched to the areas hit by the quake. “We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage,” he wrote.

Early on Monday, the first quake toppled buildings and sent panicked residents pouring out into a cold, rainy, and snowy winter night. The quake, felt as far away as Egypt and Cyprus, was centered north of the city of Gaziantep in an area about 90 km from the Syrian border. The US Geological Survey said the quake was centered about 33 km from Gaziantep and 18 km deep. A strong 6.7 aftershock rumbled about 10 minutes later.

Trail of destruction

In the Turkish city of Adana, one resident said three buildings near his home collapsed. “I don’t have the strength anymore,” one survivor could be heard calling out from beneath the rubble as rescue workers tried to reach him, said the resident, Muhammet Fatih Yavus, a journalism student.

In another quake-struck Turkish city, dozens pulled away chunks of concrete and twisted metal. People on the street shouted up to others inside a partially toppled apartment building, leaning dangerously.

In Diyarbakir, cranes and rescue teams rushed people on stretchers out of a mountain of pancaked concrete floors that was once an apartment building.

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On the Syrian side of the border, the quake smashed opposition-held regions packed with some 4 million Syrians displaced from other parts of the country by the long civil war. Many of them live in decrepit conditions with little health care. At least 11 were killed in one town, Atmeh, and many more were buried in the rubble, said a doctor in the town, Muheeb Qaddour.

The United States Geological Survey estimated that the damage from the initial earthquake could cross $1 billion, according to The New York Times.

While Turkey is in midst of an economic crisis with the inflation shooting up by 85 per cent following unorthodox financial measures by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a civil war in Syria has damaged that country’s economy.

At least 40 aftershocks

The region has been shaped by more than a decade of war in Syria. Millions of Syrian refugees live in Turkey. The swath of Syria affected by the quake is divided between government-held and opposition-held areas. On the Turkish side, the quake-hit area has several large cities and is home to millions of Syrian refugees.

At least 40 aftershocks followed, some hours later during daylight, the strongest measuring 6.6, Turkish authorities said. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu urged people not to enter damaged buildings due to the risks. “Our priority is to bring out people trapped under ruined buildings and to transfer them to hospitals,” he said.

Buildings were reported collapsed in a swath from Syria’s cities of Aleppo and Hama to Turkey’s Diyarbakir, more than 330 km to the northeast. Rescue teams called for silence as they listed for survivors under the wreckage of an 11-story building.

Hundreds trapped

In northwest Syria, the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence described the situation in the rebel-held region as “disastrous.” Entire buildings have collapsed and people are trapped under the rubble. The civil defence urged people to evacuate buildings to gather in open areas. Emergency rooms were full of injured, said Amjad Rass, president of the Syrian American Medical Society.

In Damascus, buildings shook and many people went down to the streets in fear. The quake jolted residents in Lebanon from beds, shaking buildings for about 40 seconds. Many residents of Beirut left their homes and took to the streets or drove in their cars away from buildings.

The earthquake came as the Middle East is experiencing a snowstorm that is expected to continue until Thursday. Turkey sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 were killed in powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkey in 1999.

Musk’s help declined

Meanwhile, according to a Bloomberg report, the Turkish government has declined Elon Musk’s proposal to send a satellite broadband service to the country after the strongest earthquake to hit the country in decades.

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Musk had said on Twitter that one of his companies, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, could provide the Starlink network as soon as approved by the Turkish government.

A senior Turkish official, who did not want to be named, thanked the multi-billionaire for the proposal but said Turkey had enough satellite capacity. The country has base stations working with batteries though electricity cannot be provided to some areas, Bloomberg quoted the official.

(With inputs from agencies)