Rescuers in Turkey and war-torn Syria searched through the frigid night into Tuesday, hoping to pull more survivors from the rubble after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck. killed more than 4,000 people and demolished thousands of buildings over a wide region. .
Authorities feared the death toll from the early Monday quake and aftershocks would continue to rise as rescuers searched for survivors amid tangles of metal and concrete strewn across the region beset by the civil War and the 12-year refugee crisis in Syria.
The survivors they cried for help from mountains of rubble as first responders battled rain and snow. Seismic activity continued to shake the region, including another shock nearly as powerful as the initial quake. Workers carefully removed concrete slabs and reached for bodies as desperate families waited for news of their loved ones.
“My grandson is 1 1/2 years old. Please help them please. … They were on the 12th floor,” Imran Bahur cried next to his destroyed apartment building in the Turkish city of Adana on Monday.
Tens of thousands of people left homeless in Turkey and Syria faced a cold night. In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, a provincial capital about 33 kilometers (20 miles) from the epicenter, people took refuge in shopping malls, stadiums, mosques and community centers. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared seven days of national mourning.
US President Joe Biden called Erdogan to express his condolences and offer assistance to the NATO ally. The White House said it was sending search and rescue teams to support Turkey’s efforts.
The quake, which was centered in Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, sent residents of Damascus and Beirut into the streets and was felt as far away as Cairo.
It heaped more misery on a region that has suffered tremendously over the past decade. On the Syrian side, the area is divided between government-controlled territory and the country’s last opposition-controlled enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Meanwhile, Turkey is home to millions of refugees from the civil war.
In the rebel-held enclave, hundreds of families were trapped in the rubble, the opposition emergency organization known as the White Helmets said in a statement. The area is teeming with some 4 million people displaced from other parts of the country by the war. Many live in buildings that have already been destroyed by military bombing.
Overburdened medical centers quickly filled with the injured, rescuers said. Some facilities had to be emptied, including a maternity hospital, according to the SAMS medical organization.
More than 7,800 people were rescued in 10 provinces, according to Orhan Tatar, an official with Turkey’s disaster management authority.
The region sits on large fault lines and It is frequently shaken by earthquakes . Some 18,000 people died in equally powerful earthquakes that struck northwestern Turkey in 1999.
The US Geological Survey measured Monday’s earthquake at 7.8, with a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles). Hours later, a magnitude 7.5 temblor, likely triggered by the former, struck more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.
The second jolt caused a multi-story apartment building in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa to collapse onto the street in a cloud of dust as bystanders screamed, according to video from the scene.
Thousands of buildings were reported to have collapsed in a wide area stretching from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Hama to Diyarbakir in Turkey, more than 330 kilometers (200 miles) to the northeast.
In Turkey alone, more than 5,600 buildings were destroyed, authorities said. Hospitals were damaged and one collapsed in the city of Iskenderun.
Extremely cold temperatures could shorten the time rescuers have to save trapped survivors, said Dr Steven Godby, a natural hazards expert at Nottingham Trent University. The difficulty of working in areas beset by civil war would further complicate rescue efforts, he said.
Offers of help, from search and rescue teams to medical supplies and money, came from dozens of countries as well as the European Union and NATO. The vast majority were for Turkey, with a Russian and even Israeli promise to help the Syrian government, but it was unclear if any would go to the ravaged rebel-held pocket in the northwest.
The opposition Syrian Civil Defense described the situation in the enclave as “disastrous”.
The opposition-controlled area, centered on Idlib province, has been under siege for years, with frequent Russian and government airstrikes. The territory is dependent on a flow of aid from Turkey for everything from food to medical supplies.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said 224 buildings in northwestern Syria were destroyed and at least 325 damaged, including aid warehouses. The UN had been helping 2.7 million people each month through cross-border deliveries, which could now be disrupted.
At a hospital in Idlib, Osama Abdel Hamid said most of his neighbors were killed when the four-story building they shared collapsed. As he fled with his wife and his three children, a wooden gate fell on them, protecting them from falling debris.
“God gave me a new lease on life,” he said.
In the small, rebel-held Syrian town of Azmarin in the mountains next to the Turkish border, the bodies of several dead children, wrapped in blankets, were brought to a hospital.
In the Turkish town of Kahramanmaras, rescuers pulled two children alive from the rubble, and one could be seen lying on a stretcher on the snowy ground. Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk said a woman was pulled out alive in Gaziantep after a rescue dog spotted her.
In Adana, about 20 people, some wearing emergency rescue vests, used power saws on top of the concrete mound of a collapsed building to clear space for survivors to get out or be rescued.
“I have no strength anymore,” a survivor could be heard screaming from under the rubble of another building in Adana as rescuers tried to reach him, said Muhammet Fatih Yavuz, a local resident.
In Diyarbakir, hundreds of rescuers and civilians filed through a massive rubble mound, passing broken concrete pieces and household items as they searched for trapped survivors.
At least 2,921 people were killed in 10 Turkish provinces, with nearly 16,000 injured, according to Turkish authorities. The death toll in Syria’s government-controlled areas rose to 656 people, with some 1,400 injured, according to the Health Ministry. In the rebel-held northwest of the country, groups operating there said at least 450 people were killed and several hundred wounded.
Huseyin Yayman, a lawmaker from Turkey’s Hatay province, said several members of his family were trapped under the rubble of their collapsed houses.
“There are so many other people who are also trapped,” he told HaberTurk television by phone. “There are so many buildings that have been damaged. The people are in the streets. It’s raining, it’s winter.