Gaziantep, Turkey earthquake 2023: Over 1,300 dead after powerful quake rocks Turkey, Syria

AZMARIN, Syria — A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria early Monday, collapsing hundreds of buildings and killing more than 1,300 people. Hundreds were still believed to be trapped under rubble and the toll was expected to rise as rescue workers searched piles of rubble in cities and towns across the region.

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

Rescuers and residents in several cities searched for survivors, working their way through tangles of metal and huge piles of concrete. A hospital in Turkey collapsed and patients, including newborns, were evacuated from a handful of facilities in Syria.

In the Turkish city of Adana, a resident said three buildings near his home collapsed. “I have no strength left,” shouted a survivor from under the rubble when rescue workers tried to reach him, said local journalism student Muhammet Fatih Yavus.

Farther east in Diyarbakir, cranes and rescue teams were rushing people on stretchers out of a mound of pancake concrete floors that was once an apartment building.

The quake, which was felt as far away as Cairo, was concentrated north of Gaziantep, a Turkish provincial capital.

It hit a region marked by more than a decade of civil war in Syria on both sides of the border. On the Syrian side, the affected strip is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is hosting millions of refugees from that conflict.

The opposition-held regions of Syria are full of about 4 million people displaced by fighting from other parts of the country. Many of them live in buildings that have already been destroyed by previous bombings. Hundreds of families remained trapped in rubble, opposition relief organization White Helmets said in a statement.

Strained health facilities and hospitals were quickly filled with the wounded, rescuers said. Others had to be emptied, including a maternity hospital, according to medical organization SAMW.

“We fear the death toll may be in the hundreds,” Muheeb Qaddour, a doctor, said by phone from the city of Atmeh.

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Turkey lies on major fault lines and is frequently rocked by earthquakes. About 18,000 were killed in powerful earthquakes that struck north-western Turkey in 1999. The US Geological Survey measured a magnitude of 7.8 on Monday. At least 20 aftershocks followed a few hours later in daylight, the strongest measuring 6.6, Turkish authorities said.

Buildings have reportedly collapsed in a wide area stretching from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Hama to Turkey’s Diyarbakir, more than 330 kilometers (200 miles) northeast. Nearly 900 buildings were destroyed in Turkey’s Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras provinces, Vice President Fuat Oktay said. A hospital collapsed in the Mediterranean coastal town of Iskanderoun, but casualties were not immediately known, he said.

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

“We hope that together we can get through this disaster as quickly as possible and with as little damage as possible,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote on Twitter.

Countries from Taiwan to Russia to Germany offered to send help, whether medical supplies, search teams or money.

In Turkey, people trying to leave quake-hit regions caused traffic jams and hampered emergency teams’ efforts to reach the affected areas. Authorities asked residents not to go out on the streets. Mosques in the region have been opened as a refuge for people unable to return to their damaged homes in freezing temperatures.

The quake severely damaged Gaziantep’s most famous landmark, the historic castle, which sits atop a hill in the center of the city. Parts of the fortress walls and watchtowers were leveled and other parts badly damaged, pictures from the city showed.

In Diyarbakir, hundreds of rescue workers and civilians formed lines over a pile of rubble and handed down broken concrete, household items and other debris while searching for trapped survivors while excavators dug through the rubble below.

In north-west Syria, the quake added new problems to the opposition-held enclave around Idlib province, which has been besieged with frequent Russian and state airstrikes for years. The area depends on a flow of aid from nearby Turkey for everything from food to medical supplies.

The opposition Syrian civil defense described the situation there as “catastrophic,” adding that entire buildings had collapsed and people were trapped under the rubble.

In the small Syrian rebel town of Azmarin, in the mountains on the Turkish border, the bodies of several dead children, wrapped in blankets, were taken to a hospital.

The USGS said the quake was concentrated about 33 kilometers (20 miles) from Gaziantep. It was 18 kilometers (11 miles) deep.

At least 912 people were killed and more than 5,400 injured in ten Turkish provinces, according to the Turkish President. The death toll in government-held areas of Syria rose to 326 people, according to the Health Ministry, and around 1,000 were injured. At least 150 people were killed in rebel-controlled areas, according to the White Helmets, although the medical organization SAMS put the number at 106; both said hundreds were injured.

In Damascus, buildings shook and many people took to the streets in fear. The tremor jolted residents of Lebanon from their beds and shook buildings for about 40 seconds. Many Beirut residents left their homes and took to the streets or drove their cars away from buildings, terrorized by memories of the 2020 port explosion that destroyed a large part of the city.

Huseyin Yayman, a lawmaker from Turkey’s Hatay province, said several of his family members were trapped under the rubble of their collapsed homes.

“There are so many other people who are also locked in,” he told HaberTurk TV over the phone. “There are so many buildings that have been damaged. People are in the streets. It’s raining, it’s winter.”

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue and Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Gaziantep, Turkey earthquake 2023: Over 1,300 dead after powerful quake rocks Turkey, Syria

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