Rescue crews in Turkey and Syria search earthquake wreckage as death toll soars

  • About 1,500 killed across 10 Turkish provinces.
  • Turkey deploys some 2,800 search-and-rescue teams.
  • Over 800 dead in Syria, where quake adds woes to decade of civil war.
  • Many aftershocks have hit the region after the initial 7.8 quake.
  • Several countries, international organizations say they’re ready to send aid.

A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked southeastern Turkey and northern Syria early Monday, toppling hundreds of buildings and killing more than 2,300 people. Hundreds were still believed to be trapped under rubble, and the toll was expected to rise as rescue workers searched mounds of wreckage in cities and towns across the area.

On both sides of the border, residents jolted out of sleep by the pre-dawn quake rushed outside on a cold, rainy and snowy winter night, as buildings were flattened and strong aftershocks continued.

Rescue workers and residents in multiple cities searched for survivors, working through tangles of metal and giant piles of concrete. A hospital in Turkey collapsed and patients, including newborns, were evacuated from a handful of facilities in Syria.

“Because the debris removal efforts are continuing in many buildings in the earthquake zone, we do not know how high the number of dead and injured will rise,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised address. “Our hope is that we recover from this disaster with the least loss of life possible.”

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, journalism student Muhammet Fatih Yavus.

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

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) measured Monday’s quake at 7.8. Major aftershocks, including one nearly as strong as the initial quake, continued to rattle the region.

WATCH | Scenes of terror, shock and heroism:

Turkey and Syria hit by huge earthquake

3 hours ago

Duration 1:55

Desperate rescue operations are underway in southeast Turkey and northern Syria after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the region.

Quake adds to misery in war-torn region

The USGS said the quake was centred about 33 kilometres from Gaziantep, a Turkish provincial capital. It was 18 kilometres deep. Hours later, a 7.5-magnitude quake struck more than 100 kilometres away. An official from Turkey’s disaster management agency, Orhan Tatar, said it was a new earthquake, not an aftershock, though its effects were not immediately clear. Hundreds of aftershocks were expected after the two temblors, Tatar said.

Nearly 1,500 people were killed in 10 Turkish provinces, with some 8,500 injured, according to the president of the country’s disaster management agency.

The death toll in government-held areas of Syria climbed to over 430 people, with some 1,280 injured. In rebel-held northwest  areas of Syria, more than 380 people were killed, with hundreds more injured, according to the opposition White Helmets volunteer emergency organization.

People search through rubble below a collapsed roof of a building following a powerful earthquake.
People search through rubble following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on Monday. The powerful quake was also felt in Cyprus and Lebanon. (Sertac Kayar/Reuters)

The quake struck a region that has been shaped on both sides of the border by more than a decade of civil war in Syria. On the Syrian side, the swath affected is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is home to millions of refugees from that conflict.

The opposition-held regions in Syria are packed with some four million people displaced from other parts of the country by the fighting. Many of them live in buildings that are already wrecked from past bombardments. Hundreds of families remained trapped in rubble, the White Helmets said in a statement.

Four men dig through the rubble of a collapsed building, searching for survivors, following an earthquake.
Rescuers search for survivors under the rubble, following the quake, in the rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria, on Monday. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

Buildings were reported collapsed in a wide area extending from Syria’s cities of Aleppo and Hama to Turkey’s Diyarbakir, more than 330 kilometres to the northeast. Nearly 900 buildings were destroyed in Turkey’s Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras provinces, said Vice-President Fuat Oktay. 

“Unfortunately, at the same time, we are also struggling with extremely severe weather conditions,” Oktay told reporters. Nearly 2,800 search-and-rescue teams have been deployed in the disaster-stricken areas, he said.

International offers of aid

Canada, the U.S., Russia, Germany and Israel were among the many nations offering to send help.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said members of the alliance were mobilizing support to help Turkey deal with the aftermath, with the European Union also saying it planned to mobilize aid.

WATCH | Aftershock hits as CBC News reporter prepares to go on air:

CBC reporter in Turkey experiences quake aftershock

4 hours ago

Duration 1:25

CBC News reporter Dalia Ashry was preparing to go live on CBC News Network on Monday morning from Turkey when an aftershock from a devastating earthquake shook her surroundings.

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.

The quake heavily damaged Gaziantep’s most famed landmark, its historic castle perched atop a hill in the centre of the city. Parts of the fortress’s walls and watch towers were levelled and other parts heavily damaged, images from the city showed.

In Diyarbakir, hundreds of rescue workers and civilians formed lines across a mountain of wreckage, passing down broken concrete pieces, household belongings and other debris as they searched for trapped survivors while excavators dug through the rubble below.

A dark-haired woman is shown in the foreground as several people look on amid a pile of rubble.
A woman reacts as rescuers search for survivors through the rubble of collapsed buildings in Adana, in southern Turkey. (Can Erok/AFP/Getty Images)

In northwest Syria, the quake added new woes to the opposition-held enclave centred on the province of Idlib, which has been under siege for years, with frequent Russian and government airstrikes. The territory depends on a flow of aid from nearby Turkey for everything from food to medical supplies.

The quake also 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, terrorized by memories of the 2020 port explosion that wrecked a large portion of the city.

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.

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