Turkey jolted by second huge quake after first leaves at least 1,400 dead

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 is home to millions of Syrian refugees

Turkey, Syria, 7.8 magnitude earthquake
Turkey sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. The earthquake was also felt in Lebanon and Syria | Photo: Twitter/AP

Turkey was jolted by two massive earthquakes on Monday (February 6), which left over 1,400 people dead and several hundred 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.

The second earthquake struck south-eastern Turkey 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. It is not yet clear how much damage the second quake has inflicted on the war-ravaged region that was still trying to come to terms with the first quake.

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.

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 Greenland, 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.

Also read: Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region

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.

“We fear that the deaths are in hundreds,” Qaddour said, referring to the rebel-held northwest. Raed Salah, the head of the White Helmets, the emergency organization in opposition areas, said whole neighborhoods had collapsed in some areas.

Turkey’s official figures said 912 people died and 5,383 were injured, while 2,818 buildings collapsed. The Syrian health ministry said more than 326 people were killed and 1,042 injured, The Guardian reported. Rescue services in the Syrian north-west, not controlled by the government, said their death toll was 221. That added up to 1,459 confirmed deaths around 5.30 pm IST.

At least 20 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. 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.

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.

In Turkey, people trying to leave the quake-stricken regions caused traffic jams, hampering efforts of emergency teams trying to reach the affected areas. Authorities urged residents not to take to the roads. Mosques around the region were being opened up as a shelter for people unable to return to damaged homes amid temperatures that hovered around freezing.

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 under rubble

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.

(With inputs from agencies)