Casualties mounting in Turkiye, Syria after powerful earthquake

ANKARA, 6 Feb 2023:

Over 1,400 people have been killed and thousands more injured after two massive earthquakes struck southeastern Turkiye and northern Syria early today.

Turkiye president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there were at least 912 dead and more than 5,300 injured in the country, while authorities in neighbouring Syria have reported 547 deaths and 1,382 injuries.

At around 4.17am local time (01:17GMT), a magnitude-7.4 earthquake struck Kahramanmaras province at a depth of 7km, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said.

The US Geological Survey put the tremor at M7.8 at a depth of 17.9km near the city of Gaziantep.

That earthquake was followed by another huge tremor in the early afternoon, which struck about 80km north of the first and measured M7.6 according to AFAD, while dozens of strong aftershocks have also been reported, hampering efforts to free people trapped under destroyed buildings.

Photographs and footage showed victims being carried out from piles of rubble, as well as collapsed buildings and crushed vehicles in Turkey.

Authorities declared a “level 4 alarm” calling for international assistance, as search teams and planes have been deployed for rescue work in 10 provinces.

In Syria, at least 326 people have been killed and 1,042 injured, mostly in the governorates of Aleppo, Hama, Tartous and Latakia, reported state news outlet Sana. It cited information from the Ministry of Health, so therefore only includes data for areas of the country controlled by Damascus.

The northwestern governorate of Idlib, the last opposition stronghold in the country, and several areas in Aleppo governorate are outside the control of the government and located near the epicentre of the earthquake, so it is feared the death toll could be much higher than that reported by Sana.

In opposition-controlled zones, over 200 people have been killed and more than 400 injured, according to the White Helmets (Syrian Civil Defense), a group of civilian rescuers who operate in rebel-held areas of the country.

“Death toll from earthquake in northwest Syria now at least 221 with at least 419 injured. Difficulty in rescue efforts as hundreds remain trapped under rubble and heavy equipment needed. Number expected to rise as hundreds of families (are) still trapped,” the group said on Twitter.

“Destruction, devastation, and collapse of buildings. … Many trapped under the rubble or stranded in the winter cold. We call on the international community to take action,” it wrote earlier.

Syria president Bashar al-Assad chaired an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the damage and “necessary procedures.”

There have also been reports the earthquake was felt in Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Lebanon. Authorities in Italy warned of a potential tsunami risk to the country’s coast, but later withdrew the alert.

At least 66 aftershocks, including the largest measuring M6.6, have followed in the hours since the earthquake, according to the AFAD.

Photographs and footage showed victims being carried out from mountains of rubble, as well as collapsed buildings and crushed vehicles in Turkiye.

The airports of Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras and Hatay have been closed, while heavy snowfall in Malatya makes rescue efforts difficult and aggravates the conditions of those trapped and those who have made it to safety outside.

Yildirim Kurt, a farmer based near Kahramanmaras, said by phone early this morning that the people in the area were “in a panic.”

“We woke up to a strong earthquake. Our house did not collapse but everything inside the house has fallen to the ground,” he said, adding that temperatures in the area were below zero.

“Our neighbours’ house has collapsed. We have a problem with communications. We are all outside, in the open air. I was able to speak with relatives in nearby towns. They say that many buildings have collapsed there.”

Turkiye president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that “search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched to the areas affected by the earthquake” that was felt in “many parts of our country”.

“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage, and we continue our work.”

The US, EU, Italy and Ukraine have said they are ready to help. Azerbaijan will send 370 rescuers as well as tents, medicines and other emergency supplies in the coming hours.

This is the largest earthquake recorded in Turkey since the M7.6 shake in Izmit in 1999 at a depth of 15km, which caused more than 18,000 deaths.

In 2011 a M7.2 tremor shook Van causing 600 deaths, and in 2020 a M7 shook Izmir causing more than 115 deaths.