Istanbul/Damascus, Feb 7 – Over 2,300 people were killed – over 1,500 in Turkey and at least 810 in Syria, thousands more injured, and extensive damage caused in both countries, including fires in fuel pipelines and oil refineries, as a massive quake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, struck the two countries’ border region early on Monday.
As rescue teams scrambled in freezing weather to extricate trapped people from under debris of collapsed buildings and arrange shelter for the affected, another major earthquake, measuring 7.5, rocked the same region, as did dozens of after-shocks. Some of these were so powerful as to be classed as major quakes in their own right.
The death toll in Turkey has risen to 1,541, according to Vice President Fuat Oktay, while more than 9,700 people have been injured after the two quakes.
He said that there were as many as 145 aftershocks following both quakes, three of whose magnitudes were larger than 6.
Figures from Syria put the toll at above 800, across government and rebel-held areas, the BBC reported.
The 7.8 magnitude quake struck near Turkey’s Gaziantep early on Monday (local time) and its tremors were said to be felt all around the Middle East region from Cairo to Beirut to Baghdad. It even prompted Italy to declare a tsunami warning.
The new 7.5-magnitude tremor hit at around 1.30 p.m. local time and was described, by officials, as a new quake, not an aftershock.
Pictures from the affected areas were harrowing, showing widespread destruction of public and private property, including some ancient cultural sites, and traumatised people. People, who were lucky enough to escape into the open, were seen crying about their kin still trapped under the debris of collapsed buildings as others tried to provide solace and assurance.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s adviser Inur Cevik, terming the disaster “widespread and devastating”, said there was no shortage of resources in trying to find survivors, but rather that it was a race against time.
“The adverse weather conditions and people that are under the rubble, you have to save them before the weather drops in and kills these people because of the cold, so people who are now under the rubble, there’s a mad rush to get them out,” Cevik told the BBC.
“We have radars, body sensors, but you know there’s so much widespread devastation that you can’t reach everywhere – some of it you have to listen (for)… (People are asked to stay) silent so that they can hear some people calling for help.”
The wave of destruction swept through 10 Turkish provinces, including Kahramanmaras, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Diyarbakir, Adana, Adiyaman, Malatya, Osmaniye, Hatay, and Kilis, while in Syria, northern Aleppo, Hama, Latakia, and Tartus were the affected areas, RT reported.
In both countries, the quake caused damage to key infrastructure. In Turkey’s Kilis Province, natural gas pipelines ruptured, with the fuel bursting into large plumes of flame, according to footage circulating online. Operator BOTAS said it cut the flow, but pressurized gas in the pipeline continued to feed the fires.
In Syria, a refinery in the city of Baniyas, one of the largest in the country, had to be shut down for at least 48 hours due to cracks in the chimney of its power unit, the Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources reported. Train services were also shut as a precautionary measure.
The leaders of countries around the world have pledged to send support to help rescue efforts in Turkey and Syria, while the UN held a minute of silence as a gesture.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent messages of condolence to his Turkish and Syrian counterparts Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Bashar al Assad and said his government was ready to help. Russian rescue teams have been sent to both countries to assist at the disaster sites, RT reported.
US President Joe Biden, in a tweet, said: “I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation caused by the earthquake in Turkiye and Syria. I have directed my team to continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with Turkiye and provide any and all needed assistance.”
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement: “My thoughts are with the people of Turkiye and Syria this morning, particularly with those first responders working so valiantly to save those trapped by the earthquake. The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can.”
French President Emmanuel Macron described the images coming from both countries as “terrible” and said his country “stands ready to provide emergency aid”, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country mourned with the relatives of those killed and “will of course send help”.
India on Monday said it was ready to help Turkey in its hour of crisis.
Expressing concern and shock over the massive earthquake, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that India’s “140 crore people are with the victims of the earthquake in Turkey”.
In response to a tweet by President Erdogan, Modi said, “Anguished by the loss of lives and damage of property due to the Earthquake in Turkey. Condolences to the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon. India stands in solidarity with the people of Turkey and is ready to offer all possible assistance to cope with this tragedy.”
The Ministry of External Affairs said that in light of Prime Minister Modi’s instructions to offer all possible assistance to cope with the earthquake in Turkey, P.K. Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, held a meeting to discuss immediate relief measures.
It said that two teams of NDRF comprising 100 personnel with specially trained dog squads and necessary equipment are ready to be flown to Turkey for search and rescue operations.
Medical teams are also being readied with trained doctors and paramedics with essential medicines. Relief material will be dispatched in coordination with the Turkish government.
Israel has said it will send search and rescue and medical teams to both Turkey and Syria.
“This is what we do around the world and this is what we do in areas close to us,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, the BBC reported.
Other countries like Azerbaijan, Greece, Serbia, and Spain have also offered help.