Erdogan: the earthquake in Turkey became the country’s worst disaster in 84 years


The number of victims of a strong earthquake in the southeast of Turkey, near the Syrian border, has exceeded 2,300 people in both countries.

Turkey’s emergency agency said more than 1,500 people had died there, while an estimated 810 people had died in Syria.

The numbers are still expected to rise as rescuers comb through mountains of debris in freezing, snowy weather.

This is the worst disaster in Turkey in decades, the country’s president said.

The US Geological Survey said the 7.8-magnitude tremor struck at 04:17 local time (01:17 GMT) at a depth of 17.9 km (11 miles) near the city of Gaziantep.

Seismologists said the first earthquake was one of the strongest ever recorded in Turkey. Survivors said the shaking stopped within two minutes.

Twelve hours later, a second earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 occurred in the Turkish district of Elbistan, Kahramanmarash province.

An official from Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Agency said it was “not an aftershock” and was “independent” of the previous quake.

Turkey is located in one of the most active earthquake zones in the world. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday’s disaster was the worst the country had seen since 1939, when an earthquake in Erzincan in eastern Turkey killed nearly 33,000 people.

However, another deadly earthquake struck northwest Turkey in 1999, killing more than 17,000 people.

Melisa Salman, a resident of Kahramanmaras, said living in an earthquake zone meant she was used to being “shaken”, but Monday’s tremor was “the first time we’ve experienced anything like this”.

“We thought it was the apocalypse,” she said.

Many thousands of people were injured, with at least 5,385 people injured in Turkey and 2,000 in Syria.

Many of the victims are in war-torn northern Syria, where millions of refugees live in camps on both sides of the Syrian-Turkish border. Dozens of dead are reported in rebel-held areas.

Thousands of buildings collapsed, and several videos show the moment they fell as onlookers ran for cover. Many four- to five-story buildings are now leveled, roads are destroyed, and huge mountains of rubble can be seen as far as the eye can see.

Among the destroyed buildings was Gaziantep Castle, a historic landmark that stood for more than 2,000 years.

And in the city of Diyarbakir, a shopping center collapsed, reported the Turkish correspondent of the BBC.

Turkey’s energy infrastructure has been damaged, videos have emerged showing large fires in southern Turkey. Social media users claim that this happened due to damage to the gas pipeline.

Turkey’s Energy Minister Fatih Donmez confirmed that infrastructure had been seriously damaged, but did not mention the explosions.

image captionA search is underway for people trapped in damaged buildings in Diyarbakır, north-east of Gaziantep

The Turkish Red Crescent called on citizens to donate blood, and the president of the organization, Kerem Kinik reported on Twitter that an additional amount of blood and medical preparations is sent to the affected region.

Following an international appeal for help, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 45 countries had offered support.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an international response to the crisis, saying many families affected by the disaster “are already in dire need of humanitarian assistance in areas where access is a problem.”

The European Union is sending search and rescue teams to Turkey, and rescuers from the Netherlands and Romania are already on their way. Britain said it would send 76 specialists, equipment and rescue dogs.

France, Germany, Israel and the US have also pledged to help. Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered help to both Turkey and Syria, as well as Iran.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said 10 cities were affected by the initial quake, including Hatay, Osmaniye, Adiyaman, Malatya, Sanliurfa, Adana, Diyarbakır and Kilis.

Education in these cities has been suspended for at least a week.

Diyarbakır, Turkey: “People are still under the rubble”

A volunteer with the White Helmets rescue group, which operates in rebel-held areas of northwestern Syria, choked back tears as he described the destruction in Sarmad, near the border with Turkey.

“Many buildings in various towns and villages in northwestern Syria have collapsed,” he said.

“Many families are still under the rubble. We are trying to save them, but it is a very difficult task for us.

“We need help. We need the international community to do something, to help us, to support us. Northwestern Syria is now a disaster zone. We need help from everyone to save our people,” he added.

Hours after the first earthquake, a toddler was pulled from the rubble in Azaz, Syria, dirty and bloody but alive. The video shows rescuers running to pull her out of the cold.

A rescuer is holding a small child

The earthquake was strong enough to be felt as far away as Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel.

“I was writing something and suddenly the whole building started shaking and I didn’t know what to feel,” said Mohamad El-Chamaa, a student from the Lebanese capital Beirut.

“I was right next to the window, so I was just scared that they might crash. It went on for four or five minutes, and it was pretty terrifying. It was heartbreaking,” he said.

Earthquake intensity map

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