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At least 1,800 people were killed and thousands injured in a series of powerful earthquakes that struck central Turkey and northwest Syria on Monday.
The death toll from the Kahramanmaras earthquakes is expected to rise further as rescue workers search rubble across the area and strong aftershocks continue.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan characterized it “the biggest disaster Turkey has experienced in the last century after the 1939 Erzincan earthquake,” adding that he could not predict how much the death toll might rise.
“Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts, although the winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night makes things more difficult,” he said.
A magnitude 7.8 quake hit in the early hours of a freezing winter morning at a depth of about 17.9 kilometers in Nurdağı, Turkey, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. This first quake was followed by several aftershocks, including one of 7.5 magnitude near Ekinözü in Turkey about 100 km northeast of the first quake, not long before midday.
According to the latest figures, some 1,121 people died in Turkey, the country’s disaster agency said.
Erdoğan said more than 5,383 were injured, and some 2,818 buildings have collapsed. The number of those rescued stands at 2,470. The first quake’s epicenter was not far from the Turkish city of Gaziantep, home to about 2 million people; footage on broadcaster CNNTurk showed the historic Gaziantep Castle was severely damaged.
“Of the deadliest earthquakes in any given year, only two in the last ten years (2013-2022) have been of equivalent magnitude, and four more in the previous 10 years. Therefore, earthquakes this large can be the deadliest in any given year,” said Joanna Faure Walker, head of the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction in the U.K. She added that Turkey has experienced the deadliest earthquake worldwide four times in the last 50 years.
Dramatic footage showed buildings flattened, with rescue teams searching for survivors in concrete rubble with detection dogs, as the temperature hovered around the freezing point. People attempting to leave the region caused traffic jams, hampering the approach of evacuation teams.
Outpouring of support and sympathy
The European Union has mobilized search-and-rescue teams for Turkey, following a request to activate the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
Some 10 teams are on their way from Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania to support first responders on the ground. Italy and Hungary have offered their rescue teams to Turkey as well. Under the mechanism, the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre is in direct contact with authorities to coordinate further support if needed.
Humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said that teams have been responding in northern Syria since the early hours.
In Syria, already wrecked by more than 11 years of civil war, some 371 people had been killed and 1,042 were injured, according to the health ministry. In the rebel-held Syrian northwest, the Syrian Civil Defence, known as the White Helmets, have confirmed 380 fatalities.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was holding an emergency Cabinet meeting to review the damage, his office said.
Shaking was felt as far as 600 km away by people in Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, Georgia, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. Shortly after the quake, a small tsunami hit the Famagusta coast in Cyprus, although this caused no damage.
“Deeply saddened by the devastating earthquake disaster in Türkiye and Syria,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis posted on Twitter, adding that Greece is mobilizing its resources and will assist immediately.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias contacted his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to offer his condolences and Greece’s readiness to offer help.
Tensions between the neighboring countries had been particularly high in recent months, especially as both governments plan elections by summer.
So-called earthquake diplomacy was initiated after successive earthquakes hit both countries in the summer of 1999, eventually leading to an improvement in Greek-Turkish relations.
“We stand in full solidarity with the people of Türkiye and Syria after the deadly earthquake that hit this morning,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.
Condolences and offers of help also poured in from across Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed “the most sincere condolences” to his Turkish and Syrian counterparts and said Russia stands ready to provide the necessary assistance.
Russia’s defense ministry said its military facilities in Syria had not been damaged by the earthquake, and an official from Russia’s state atomic energy company Rosatom said the Akkuyu nuclear power plant it is building in southern Turkey was also undamaged.