ANKARA: A major earthquake of magnitude 7.9 struck central Turkey and northwest Syria on Monday, killing about 2600 people and injuring thousands others as buildings collapsed across the snowy region, and triggering a search for survivors trapped in the rubble.
The quake, which hit in the early darkness of a winter morning, was also felt in Cyprus and Lebanon.
“I have never felt anything like it in the 40 years I’ve lived,” said Erdem, a resident of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the quake’s epicenter, who declined to give his surname.
“We were shaken at least three times very strongly, like a baby in a crib.”
Turkey’s disaster agency said 76 people had been killed, and 440 hurt, as authorities scrambled rescue teams and supply aircraft to the affected area, while declaring a “level 4 alarm” that calls for international assistance.
State broadcaster RTR showed rescue workers in Osmaniye province using a blanket to carry an injured man out of a collapsed four-storey building and putting him in an ambulance. He was the fifth to be pulled from the rubble, it said.
President Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone with the governors of eight affected provinces to gather information on the situation and rescue efforts, his office said in a statement.
A Syrian health official said more than 230 people had been killed and some 600 injured there, most in the provinces of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia, where numerous buildings tumbled down.
“The situation is very tragic, tens of buildings have collapsed in the city of Salqin,” a member of the White Helmets rescue organisation said in a video clip on Twitter, referring to a town about five kilometres from the Turkish border.
The rescuer on the clip, which showed a rubble-strewn street, said homes were “totally destroyed”.
President Bashar al-Assad was holding an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the next steps, his office said.
State television showed footage of rescue teams searching for survivors in heavy rain and sleet. Health officials urged the public to help take the injured to emergency rooms.
“Wounded people are still arriving in waves,” Aleppo’s health director, Ziad Hage Taha, told.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in Aleppo posted photographs of blocks of stone that had crashed down onto its mezzanine.
In nearby countryside, rescuers carried a bloodied, wailing baby out of a collapsed building, while, in the town of Azaz, a crane prised away slabs of concrete as rescuers carried away a body wrapped in a sheet.
Many buildings in the region had already suffered damage in fighting during Syria’s nearly 12-year-long civil war.
People in Damascus, and in the Lebanese cities of Beirut and Tripoli, ran into the street and took to their cars to get away from their buildings in case they collapsed, witnesses said.
The United States was “profoundly concerned” about the quake in Turkey and Syria and was monitoring events closely, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Twitter.
“I have been in touch with Turkish officials to relay that we stand ready to provide any and all needed assistance,” he said.
Meanwhile, Egypt has expressed sympathy and condolences to Syria and Turkey after a strong earthquake struck the countries on Monday and has offered to help in eliminating the consequences, the Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“Egypt expresses its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and the brotherly Syrian and Turkish people in this hour of grief, emphasizing its readiness to help in dealing with the consequences of this terrible catastrophe,” a statement read.
Earlier in the day, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority said that a 7.4 magnitude earthquake occurred in the Kahramanmaras province at 04:17 a.m. local time (01:17 GMT).
At least 300 earthquake-related deaths have been reported across seven provinces, while another 2,383 people were injured. In addition, strong tremors were felt in neighboring Syria, resulting in extensive damages and deaths.