Powerful earthquakes strike Turkey and Syria, killing more than 1,400 people


A 7.8-magnitude quake felt across four countries on Monday morning was followed by a series of aftershocks and then a 7.5-magnitude quake in the afternoon that authorities said was separate from the first. The quakes were Turkey’s worst seismic event in decades, rocking an area around the city of Gaziantep that is home to millions of Turkish citizens, displaced Syrians and refugees.

The first earthquake struck at 4:17 a.m. in the middle of a winter storm and killed at least 900 people across a swath of southern Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, with almost 5,400 wounded and more than 2,800 buildings collapsed. Search teams had rescued almost 2,500 people from caught under debris.

“At the moment, we don’t know how high the dead and wounded numbers will rise,” Mr. Erdogan said in an address to the nation, noting that the debris removal was still under way.

In Syria, the earthquake shook a region of the country that houses millions of people displaced by the country’s civil war, including many living in makeshift camps. Residents of the area, in text messages, reported that dozens of buildings collapsed.

The first earthquake killed at least 547 people in the Aleppo region and several other areas of Syria, according to the Syrian Civil Defense organization, known as the White Helmets, and also the health ministry affiliated with the government in Damascus.

“At the moment, we don’t know how high the dead and wounded numbers will rise,” Mr. Erdogan said in an address to the nation, noting that the debris removal was still under way.

Temperatures dipped below freezing overnight with snow and freezing rain in some of the areas that were hit by the earthquake. “The fact that it’s winter, the weather is cold and that the earthquake happened in the middle of the night makes the work harder but everyone is working with their hearts and souls in it,” Mr. Erdogan said.

In Gaziantep, a Turkish city of more than two million people, the earthquake jolted sleeping residents and sent them running into the street while buildings collapsed around them and sirens blared. Some people remained trapped under the rubble while others took shelter in their cars from the icy winter storm as the sun rose on Monday, residents said.

“The house shook like a baby’s cradle. It was like a nightmare. I woke up the kids. I told them to stay calm. We left the building,” said Bülent Çakır, 48, a resident of Gaziantep. “Everyone was shouting, crying in panic.”

The White Helmets said on Twitter that it had declared a state of emergency and that many people were trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings. The organization tweeted a video of rescue workers pulling children from the rubble in a town north of the city of Aleppo, with ambulances wailing through darkened streets.

Turkish state television showed images of collapsed buildings and rescue workers searching for people in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Mr. Erdogan said on Twitter that search-and-rescue teams had been dispatched to the area.

“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage,” he said.

The earthquake is a new challenge for Mr. Erdogan, who faces a difficult campaign for an election expected in May. The government’s response to disasters, including recent wildfires, has become a subject of public debate in recent years.

Turkey’s interior minister Suleyman Soylu said on live television that the country had declared its highest state of emergency which “includes a call for international help.”

President Biden ordered USAID and other government agencies to assess a possible American relief response to help those most in need, said national security adviser Jake Sullivan in a statement, saying the U.S. is profoundly concerned by the reports of today’s destructive earthquake.”

Azerbaijan, a close ally of Turkey, sent a search and rescue team of 370 people, Turkey’s state news agency said.

The USGS reported that the earthquake had a 7.8 magnitude and took place in southern Turkey near the border with Syria, and was followed 11 minutes later by a magnitude 6.7 aftershock.

The earthquake took place in a seismically active area: the junction between the Anatolia, Arabia and Africa plates, the USGS said. Three earthquakes of magnitude 6 or larger have occurred within 250 kilometers, or about 155 miles, of Monday’s earthquake since 1970, the agency said.

A magnitude 7.6 earthquake in 1999 shook western Turkey near Istanbul, that killed thousands of people and devastated Turkey’s largest city in a national trauma that is seared in the memory of millions.


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