The strongest earthquake to hit Turkey and Syria in nearly a century killed more than 2,300 people on Monday, triggered frantic rescue efforts. And was felt as far away as Greenland.
The 7.8-magnitude early-morning earthquake, followed by dozens of aftershocks. Wiped out entire sections of major Turkish cities in a region filled with millions of people fleeing the Syrian civil war and other conflicts.
Rescuers used heavy equipment and their bare hands to peel away the rubble in search of survivors. Who in some cases could be heard begging for help under the rubble.
“Since I live in an earthquake zone, I’m used to shaking,” said Melissa Salman, a reporter from Kahramanmaras, Turkey.
“But this is the first time we’ve experienced anything like this,” the 23-year-old told AFP. “We thought it was apocalypse.”
Raed Ahmed, head of Syria’s National Earthquake Center, called it “the largest earthquake recorded in the center’s history.”
At least 810 people have died in rebel and government-held parts of Syria, state media and medical sources said. While Turkish officials said another 1,498 were killed.
The initial quake was followed by more than 50 aftershocks, including 7.5 and 6-magnitude tremors. Which rocked the region amid search and rescue operations on Monday afternoon.
Shocked survivors in Turkey ran into snow-covered streets in their pajamas as rescuers dug through the rubble of damaged homes with their hands.
“Seven members of my family are under the rubble,” Muhittin Oraki. A shocked survivor in the Kurdish-dominated Turkish city of Diyarbakir, told AFP.
“My sister and her three children are there. Also her husband, her father-in-law and her mother-in-law.”
Officials said the quake rendered the area’s three main airports inoperable, complicating the delivery of vital aid.
Turkey’s last 7.8-magnitude quake was in 1939, when 33,000 people died in the eastern Erzincan province.
Monday’s first quake struck at 4:17 a.m. (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 18 kilometers (11 miles) near the Turkish city of Gaziantep. Home to about two million people, the US Geological Survey said.
The Geological Institute of Denmark said the main tremor reached the east coast of Greenland eight minutes after the quake in Turkey.
Osama Abdel Hamid, who survived the earthquake in Syria, said his family was asleep when the tremors started.
“I woke up my wife and my children and we ran for the door,” he said. “We opened it and suddenly the whole building collapsed.”
A spokesman for Syria’s civil defense said groups were scrambling to rescue trapped people.
“Many buildings have collapsed in various towns and villages in northwestern Syria… even now many families are under the rubble,” said Ismail Alabdallah.
The United States, the European Union and Russia all immediately sent condolences and offers of aid.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has offered to provide “necessary assistance” to Turkey, whose combat drones are helping Kiev fight off Russian aggression.
Turkish television images showed rescuers digging through rubble in the city centers and residential areas of almost all major cities along the Syrian border.
Some of the heaviest destruction occurred near the epicenter between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep. With entire city blocks lying in rubble under avalanches.
A famous 13th-century mosque partially collapsed in Malta province. While a 14-story building with 28 apartments that housed 92 people also collapsed.
In other cities, social media posts showed a 2,200-year-old hilltop fortress built by the Roman army at Gaziantep lying in ruins. Its walls partially reduced to rubble.
Syria’s health ministry reported damage across Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Tartus provinces. Where Russia leases a naval facility.
AFP correspondents in northern Syria said terrified residents fled their homes after the tremors.
Even before the tragedy, Aleppo – Syria’s pre-war commercial hub – often collapsed due to dilapidated infrastructure. Which suffered from a lack of wartime oversight.
Officials shut off natural gas and electricity supplies across the region as a precaution, and also closed schools for two weeks.
“The size of the aftershocks, which can last for days even though much of the energy has dissipated. Risks collapsing structures already weakened by earlier events.” Said David Rothery, an earthquake expert at Britain’s Open University.