The most powerful earthquake in nearly a century struck Turkey and Syria early Monday, killing over 1,200 people in their sleep, levelling buildings and causing tremors felt as far away as Iraq. The 7.8-magnitude quake wiped out entire sections of major Turkish cities in a restless region filled with millions of people who have fled the civil war in Syria and other conflicts.
The head of Syria’s National Earthquake Centre, Raed Ahmed, told pro-government radio that this was “the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the centre”. At least 326 people died in government-controlled parts of Syria, according to the latest toll. At least 912 people also died in Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Shocked survivors in Turkey rushed out into the snow-covered streets in their pyjamas, watching rescuers dig through the debris of damaged homes with their hands.
Seven members of my family are under the debris,” Muhittin Orakci, a stunned survivor in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, told AFP. My sister and her three children are there. And also her husband, her father-in-law and her mother-in-law. The rescue was being hampered by a winter blizzard that covered major roads in ice and snow. Officials said the quake made three major airports in the area inoperable, further complicating deliveries of vital aid.
The quake struck at 04:17 am (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 17.9 kilometres (11 miles) near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, which is home to around two million people, the US Geological Survey said. Officials cut off natural gas and power supplies across the region as a precaution, also closing shools for two weeks.
“The size of the aftershocks, which may continue for days although mostly decreasing in energy, brings a risk of collapse of structures already weakened by the earlier events,” David Rothery, an earthquake expert at the Open University in Britain.
“This makes search and rescue efforts dangerous. Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes. The last 7.8-magnitude tremor shook Turkey in 1939, when 33,000 died in the eastern Erzincan province.
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