Ankara/Beirut, Feb 6 (EFE).- Over 2,300 people have died and thousands more were injured after two massive earthquakes struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday.
The number of casualties was expected to rise further, as thousands of buildings have been damaged or destroyed.
Turkey’s disaster management agency AFAD said that 1,500 people have been killed and 8,553 others were injured in 10 provinces in the country’s south.
Across the border in Syria, which has been gripped by a civil war for over a decade, at least 850 people have died and over 2,300 were injured in both government-controlled and rebel-held areas.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said it was the “biggest disaster” since the Erzincan earthquake in 1939, warning that the number of casualties was expected to rise further while rescue operations were carried out.
“Our state has taken action with all its institutions since the earthquake. All resources have been mobilized,” he said in Ankara, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.
A first earthquake of magnitude-7.7 struck Kahramanmaras province at around 4.17 am, at a depth of just 7 kilometers (4.3 miles), AFAD said.
That was followed by a similarly huge tremor in the early afternoon, which struck about 80 kilometers north of the first and measured M7.6, according to AFAD.
Dozens of strong aftershocks have also been reported, hampering efforts to free people trapped under destroyed buildings.
In government-held areas of Syria, at least 461 people have been killed and 1,326 injured, the Ministry of Health said according to state news outlet Sana, which only includes data for areas of the country controlled by Damascus.
In opposition-controlled zones, at least 390 people have been killed and more than 1,000 injured, according to the White Helmets (Syria Civil Defense), a group of civilian rescuers who operate in rebel-held areas of the country, adding that “the number is expected to rise with hundreds of families still unaccounted for.”
“Destruction, devastation, and collapse of buildings. … Many trapped under the rubble or stranded in the winter cold. We call on the international community to take action,” the group said on Twitter.
Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad chaired an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the damage and “necessary procedures.”
The first earthquake was reportedly felt in Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Egypt and Lebanon.
The airports in Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras and Hatay have been closed, while schools in the affected areas have been closed for a week.
Heavy snowfall in Malatya is also hampering rescue efforts and worsening conditions for both survivors who have been rescued and those who are still trapped.
Yildirim Kurt, a farmer based near Kahramanmaras, told Efe by phone early Monday morning that the people in the area were “in a panic.”
“We woke up to a strong earthquake. Our house did not collapse but everything inside the house has fallen to the ground,” he said, adding that temperatures in the area were below zero.
“Our neighbors’ house has collapsed. We have a problem with communications. We are all outside, in the open air. I was able to speak with relatives in nearby towns. They say that many buildings have collapsed there,” Kurt said.
The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Italy, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Israel, among others, have pledged their support and assistance, while the Netherlands, Romania, Russia and Azerbaijan were flying in rescue teams Monday.
US president Joe Biden said his team was closely monitoring the situation and would “provide any and all needed assistance.”
The UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, said he was “deeply saddened” by the events.
“My heart goes out to the people of Türkiye and Syria in this hour of tragedy,” he said in a statement.
These were the largest earthquakes recorded in Turkey since the M7.6 shake in Izmit in 1999, which caused more than 18,000 deaths. EFE