Turkey and Syria earthquakes: Death toll expected to ‘increase significantly’ as search and rescue efforts continue
By News agency reporters
Updated at 2.45pm on Wednesday
More than 11,000 people are believed to have died and many thousands injured when a huge earthquake of magnitude 7.8 struck central Turkey and northwest Syria, and the numbers for dead and injured keep rising by the hour.
It was also felt in Cyprus and Lebanon. It was followed in the early afternoon by another large quake of magnitude 7.7.
It was not immediately clear how much damage had been done by the second quake, also felt across the region as rescue workers were struggling to pull victims from the rubble.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it expects a significant jump in the death toll.
“I think we can expect the death toll to increase significantly,” Rick Brennan, the WHO’s regional emergency director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said.
“There’s been a lot of building collapses and it will increase more significantly around the epicentre of the earthquake.”
Mr Brennan said WHO was boosting its staff in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep, the epicentre of the earthquake, and exploring its options to send emergency medical teams to the area. He said rescue efforts were being hampered by aftershocks from the initial quake.
Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan said he said he could not predict how much the death toll would rise as search and rescue efforts continued.
“Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts although winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night makes things more difficult,” he said.
A seriously injured man is rescued from the debris of a collapsed building in Turkey.
Live footage from Turkish state broadcaster TRT showed a building collapse in the southern province of Adana after the second quake. It was not immediately clear if the building was evacuated.
In Syria, already wrecked by more than 11 years of civil war, the health ministry said more than 326 people had been killed and 1,042 injured. In the Syrian rebel-held northwest, rescuers said 221 people had died.
In Diyarbakir, Reuters journalists saw dozens of rescue workers searching through a mound of debris, all that was left of a big building, hauling off bits of wreckage as they looked for survivors. Occasionally they raised their hands and called for quiet, listening for sounds of life.
Men carried a girl wrapped in blankets from a collapsed building in the city.
“We woke up to a big noise and severe shaking. There were two aftershocks right after that,” said Meryem (29) from the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, near the epicentre.
“I was so scared, thought it will never stop. I took some things for my one-year old son and left the building.”
Footage circulated on Twitter showed two neighbouring buildings collapsing one after the other in Syria’s Aleppo, filling the street with billowing dust. Two residents of the city, which has been heavily damaged in the war, said the buildings had fallen in the hours after the quake.
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 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”.
Syrian state television showed footage of rescue teams searching for survivors in heavy rain and sleet. President Bashar al-Assad held an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the next steps, his office said.
People in Damascus and in the Lebanese cities of Beirut and Tripoli ran into the street and took to their cars to get away from their buildings in fear of collapses, witnesses said.
Footage on broadcaster CNNTurk showed the historic Gaziantep Castle was severely damaged.
Mr Erdogan said 45 countries had offered to help the search and rescue efforts.
More than 10 search and rescue teams from the European Union have been mobilised to support those on the ground in Turkey, the European Commission said.
The EU said it was also ready to support those affected in Syria, but said it had not yet received a request from the country to activate the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, which co-ordinates assistance from EU and other European countries.
The United States was “profoundly concerned” about the quake and was monitoring events closely, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Twitter. “We stand ready to provide any and all needed assistance,” he said.
The US Geological Survey said the quake struck at a depth of 17.9km. It reported a series of earthquakes, one of 6.7 magnitude. The region straddles seismic fault lines.
It was Turkey’s most severe quake since 1999, when one of similar magnitude devastated Izmit and the heavily populated eastern Marmara Sea region near Istanbul, killing more than 17,000.
Tremors were felt in the Turkish capital of Ankara, 460km northwest of the epicentre, and in Cyprus, where police reported no damage. – Reuters/AP
Top picture: Rescue workers with dogs search for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed building.