A 7.8-magnitude quake hit the southeastern area of Turkey near the Syrian border early Monday morning that wiped out entire sections of major Turkish cities in a region filled with millions who have fled Syria’s civil war and other conflicts. The massive quake was followed by dozens of aftershocks.
Turkey earthquake live updates
A second major earthquake registering 7.5 on the Richter scale hit central Turkey just a few hours later, causing panic among rescue workers and survivors. In the evening, another quake of magnitude 6.0 hit the area, causing more damage and loss of lives.
Watch: Major earthquake in Turkey, Syria kills more than 600 people, over 2000 buildings collapse
Rescuers used heavy equipment and their bare hands to peel back rubble in search of survivors, who they could in some cases hear begging for help under the debris.
International rescue efforts, India to send rescue teams
Governments and international organisations from around the world have responded with offers of support. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said early on Monday that 45 countries had offered help with search and rescue efforts.
India said it will be sending rescue and medical teams to Turkey.
Turkey earthquake: Rescue workers struggle as hundreds trapped under rubble
The Prime Minister’s Office said that a meeting was held to discuss immediate relief measures and it was decided that India would dispatch “search & rescue teams, medical teams, along with relief material in coordination with the Turkish government”.
“Two teams of NDRF, comprising 100 personnel with specially trained dog squads and necessary equipment, are ready to be flown to the earthquake hit area 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 and the Indian Embassy in Ankara and Consulate General office in Istanbul,” the PMO said in a release.
Bad weather hampers rescue efforts
The magnitude 7.8 quake, which hit before sunrise in bitter winter weather, was the worst to strike Turkey this century. It was followed in the early afternoon by another large quake of magnitude 7.5.
It was not immediately clear how much damage had been done by the second quake, which like the first was felt across the region and endangered rescuers struggling to pull casualties from the rubble.
“We were shaken like a cradle. There were nine of us at home. Two sons of mine are still in the rubble, I’m waiting for them,” said a woman with a broken arm and injuries to her face, speaking in an ambulance near the wreckage of a seven-storey block where she had lived in Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey.
Poor internet connections and damaged roads between some of the worst-hit cities in Turkey’s south, homes to millions of people, hindered efforts to assess and address the impact.
Temperatures in some areas were expected to fall to near freezing overnight, worsening conditions for people trapped under rubble or left homeless. Rain was falling on Monday after snowstorms swept the country at the weekend.
Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the quake’s epicentre between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, where entire city blocks lay in ruins.
Turkey said nearly 3,000 buildings had collapsed in seven different provinces, including public hospitals.
A famous mosque dating back to the 13th century partially collapsed in the province of Maltaya, where a 14-story building with 28 apartments that housed 92 people collapsed.
Powerful earthquake hits Turkey and Syria
<p>Earthquakes hits Syria and turkey</p>
Social media posts showed a 2,200-year-old hilltop castle built by Roman armies in Gaziantep lying in ruins, its walls partially turned to rubble.
In Syria, the health ministry reported damage across the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Tartus, where Russia is leasing a naval facility.
Dozens of building collapsed in the quake, particularly in the pre-war commercial hub of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo often collapsed due to poor infrastructure and many buildings there are dilapidated after more than a decade of war.
Syrian rebel-held northwest badly hit
In Syria, already wrecked by more than 11 years of civil war, the health ministry said over 700 people had been killed and more than 1,326 injured. In the Syrian rebel-held northwest, a United Nations spokesperson said 255 people had died.
In the Syrian rebel-held town of Jandaris in Aleppo province, a mound of concrete, steel rods and bundles of clothes lay where a multi-storey building once stood.
“There were 12 families under there. Not a single one came out. Not one,” said a thin young man, his eyes wide open in shock and his hand bandaged.
Raed Fares of the Syrian White Helmets, a rescue service in rebel-held territory known for pulling people from the ruins of buildings destroyed by air strikes, said they were in “a race against time to save the lives of those under the rubble”.
Abdul Salam al Mahmoud, a Syrian in the town of Atareb, said it felt “like the apocalypse”.
The casualty toll in northwestern Syria was expected to increase, a spokesperson for the UN office for coordinating humanitarian affairs in northwestern Syria said.
Strongest quake in over 80 years
The earthquake caused such devastation partly because of its power — it is the strongest earthquake to hit Turkey since 1939 — and because it hit a populated region.
Another reason is that it occurred at 04:17 am (0117 GMT), which meant that sleeping people were “trapped when their houses collapsed,” Roger Musson, honorary research associate at the British Geological Survey, told AFP.
The construction of buildings was also not “really adequate for an area that’s susceptible to large earthquakes,” said the author of the book “The Million Death Quake”.
Historical Gaziantep Castle destroyed after three massive earthquakes jolt Turkey
That could partly be due to the fact that the fault line on which the earthquake struck has been relatively quiet recently.
Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. A quake along the North Anatolian fault line in the northern Turkish region of Duzce killed more than 17,000 people in 1999.
But Monday’s earthquake occurred on the other side of the country, along the East Anatolian fault.
The East Anatolian fault has not had a magnitude-7 quake for over two centuries, which could mean people were “neglecting how dangerous” it is, Musson said.
Because it had been so long since the last big quake, “quite a lot of energy” may have built up, Musson theorised.
The strength of the aftershocks on Monday, including a huge 7.5-magnitude tremor, supported this theory, he added.
UN General Assembly holds minute of silence
The United Nations General Assembly observed a minute of silence on Monday in tribute to the victims of the devastating earthquake that killed more than 2,400 people in Syria and Turkey.
“Our teams are on the ground assessing the needs and providing assistance. We count on the international community to help the thousands of families hit by this disaster, many of whom were already in dire need of humanitarian aid in areas where access is a challenge,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
(With inputs from agencies)
Watch Third massive earthquake of 6.0 magnitude hit Turkey