2023 Gaziantep Turkey Earthquake: More than 1,300 dead after powerful earthquake hits Turkey and Syria


AZMARIN, Syria — On Monday morning, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, collapsing hundreds of buildings and killing more than 1,300 people. Hundreds of people are still trapped under the rubble, and the death toll is expected to rise as rescuers search through the rubble in towns and villages across the region.

Residents on both sides of the border, shaken by the pre-dawn earthquake, went outside on a cold, rainy, snowy winter night as buildings were flattened and strong tremors continued.

Rescuers and residents of several towns searched metal pits and giant piles of concrete in search of survivors. A hospital collapsed in Turkey and patients, including newborns, were evacuated from several facilities in Syria.

He said that three buildings near his residence collapsed in the Turkish city of Adana. “I don’t have the strength anymore,” said Muhammet Fatih Yavus, a resident of the city and a journalism student, when rescuers tried to reach him.

Further east, in Diyarbakir, cranes and rescue teams carried people on stretchers from the mountain of crypto-concrete floors in what was once an apartment building.

The epicenter of the earthquake, which was felt as far as Cairo, was north of Gaziantep, the capital of the Turkish province.

It struck a region on both sides of the border that has been battered by more than a decade of civil war in Syria. On the Syrian side, the affected strip is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. And Turkey is home to millions of refugees from these conflicts.

Opposition-held areas in Syria are home to nearly 4 million people who have been displaced from other parts of the country by the war. Most of them live in buildings destroyed during previous bombings. An opposition emergency organization called the White Helmets said hundreds of families were trapped under the rubble.

Health care facilities and overcrowded hospitals were quickly filled with victims, emergency officials said. Others, including the maternity ward, had to be evacuated, according to the SAMS medical organization.

“We fear that hundreds of people will die,” doctor Muhib Khaddur said by telephone from the city of Atme.

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Turkey is located on major fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. In 1999, a powerful earthquake struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people. The US Geological Survey estimated Monday’s earthquake at a magnitude of 7.8. At least 20 aftershocks occurred in the afternoon, with the strongest measuring 6.6, Turkish authorities said.

Buildings fell more than 330 kilometers northeast from Aleppo and Hama in Syria to Diyarbakir in Turkey. About 900 buildings were destroyed in Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras regions of Turkey, Vice President Fuat Oktay said. A hospital collapsed in the Mediterranean coastal city of Iskanderun, but casualties were not immediately known, he said.

“Unfortunately, at the same time, we are facing very difficult weather conditions,” Oktay told reporters. About 2,800 search and rescue teams have been mobilized to disaster areas, he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote on Twitter: “We hope to overcome this disaster as soon as possible and with the least cost.”

Countries from Taiwan to Russia to Germany have offered to send aid, whether it’s medical equipment, research teams or money.

In Turkey, people trying to leave disaster areas caused traffic jams and hampered the efforts of emergency teams trying to reach disaster areas. Authorities urged residents not to use the road. Mosques in the region were opened to shelter those who were unable to return to their homes affected by the near-freezing temperatures.

The earthquake severely damaged Gaziantep’s most famous landmark, its historic hilltop castle in the center of the city. Parts of the walls and watchtowers of the forts were destroyed, and the remaining parts were badly damaged, photos from the city showed.

In Diyarbakır, hundreds of rescuers and civilians lined up through rubble searching for fallen survivors, sifting through shattered concrete, household items and other debris as diggers dug through the rubble.

An earthquake in northwest Syria has added new misery to the opposition-held enclave of Idlib province, which has been besieged for years by frequent Russian and government airstrikes. The area is dependent on aid flows from neighboring Turkey, from food to medical supplies.

The opposition Syrian Civil Defense described the situation there as a “catastrophe”, saying that all buildings had been destroyed and people were trapped under the rubble.

The bodies of several dead children wrapped in blankets in the small town of Azmarin, which was captured by Syrian rebels in the mountains near the Turkish border, were taken to a hospital.

The USGS said the epicenter was 33 kilometers (20 miles) from Gaziantep. It was 18 kilometers (11 miles) deep.

According to the Turkish president, at least 912 people were killed and more than 5,400 injured in 10 provinces of Turkey. According to the Ministry of Health, the number of dead in the areas controlled by the Syrian government reached 326, and about 1,000 people were injured. According to the White Helmets, at least 150 people were killed in rebel-held areas, although the medical organization SAMS put the death toll at 106; both said hundreds were injured.

In Damascus, buildings shook and many people took to the streets in fear. The earthquake jolted Lebanese residents from their beds and shook buildings for about 40 seconds. Many residents of Beirut fled their homes, took to the streets or drove their cars away from buildings in 2020, fearing memories of the port explosion that destroyed much of the city.

Husein Yaiman, deputy of Turkey’s Hatay province, said several of his family members were trapped under the rubble of their collapsed houses.

“There are many other people trapped,” he told HaberTurk TV by phone. “There are a lot of damaged buildings. People are on the street. It’s raining, it’s winter.”

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writers Bassem Mrou and Karim Chehaib in Beirut contributed to this report.

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