A catastrophic earthquake that has claimed over 4,800 lives has struck Turkey and Syria, causing widespread devastation and leaving rescue teams scrambling to search for survivors trapped beneath the rubble. The quake, which struck at 04:00 a.m. on Monday, was one of the most destructive to hit the region during the last century and sent shockwaves as far as Lebanon and Israel. The earthquake caused widespread destruction, leaving a trail of debris on both sides of the border.
According to Yunus Sezer, Turkey’s head of disaster services, the earthquake resulted in at least 2,921 deaths and over 15,800 injuries in Turkey. Meanwhile, in neighboring Syria, the death toll has reached 1,451. The Syrian state news agency SANA reports that 711 people have died in government-controlled areas, mostly in Aleppo, Hama, Latakia, and Tartus regions. On the other hand, the “White Helmets” group reported 740 deaths in areas controlled by opposition forces.
On Tuesday, rescue teams in Turkey and Syria were engaged in efforts to locate individuals trapped under the debris of buildings that were destroyed by two powerful earthquakes that struck on Monday. The earthquakes resulted in the loss of over 4,800 lives.#earthquakeinturkey pic.twitter.com/gB10xffMyh
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) February 7, 2023
These opposition-controlled areas, located in northwestern Syria and bordering Turkey, are currently amidst the ongoing civil war that started in 2011. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake originated from a location 23 km (14.2 miles) east of Nurdagi in Gaziantep province in Turkey, at a depth of 24.1 km (14.9 miles), according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Aftershocks Continue to Rattle the Region, Including a Major with a 7.5 Magnitude
Multiple aftershocks have been felt throughout the day following the initial earthquake. According to the USGS, the most significant aftershock, measuring 7.5 in magnitude, occurred in Turkey approximately 9 hours after the initial quake. This major aftershock took place around 95 km (59 miles) north of the location of the initial earthquake.
Several countries have dispatched rescue workers to assist with the search and rescue effort for trapped civilians in response to the disaster. However, the effort has been made more difficult by the arrival of a cold and wet weather system in the affected area. The earthquake on Monday is considered the strongest to hit the nation since 1939, when a similar magnitude quake resulted in the death of 30,000 people, according to the USGS. Turkey has experienced seven quakes of 7.0 or greater in the past 25 years, but Monday’s quake is the most powerful. Earthquakes of this magnitude are rare, with only a few occurring each year globally.
According to Karl Lang, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech University’s School of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, the region affected by Monday’s earthquake is prone to seismic activity. Lang stated to CNN that it’s a large fault zone, but the recent quake was larger than any they have experienced in recent memory. Dr. Mazen Kewara, the Turkey director of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) near the earthquake’s epicenter in Gaziantep, told CNN that the buildings are no longer safe to use. Kewara and his family were taking refuge in their car, and he mentioned that it was unclear how long the buildings would be deemed unsafe; it could be hours or even until the next day.
As daylight arrived in Turkey, photos depicting the extensive damage caused by the earthquake became visible. The images showed entire buildings reduced to rubble, with metal rods scattered throughout the streets. Cars had overturned, and bulldozers were working to clear the debris. Gaziantep Castle had sustained severe damage. CNN meteorologists reported that a winter storm in the area was adding to the disaster. Furthermore, Karen Maginnis, a CNN meteorologist, stated that hundreds of thousands of people were affected by the disaster and mentioned that it was cold and rainy.
According to CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis, the effects of the earthquake will be far-reaching and impact the region for weeks and months to come. This will include a negative impact on crops, livelihood, care for children and families, and food supply, as the roads in the region could be affected by the cold and rainy weather conditions. She added that the roads might be impacted, affecting the availability of food, livelihood, and care for families and children.
Situation in Syria
The earthquake in Syria has added to the already dire situation for the population in the region. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that over 4 million people in northwest Syria depend on humanitarian aid. The majority of these individuals are women and children. In addition to the destruction caused by the earthquake, communities in Syria are also facing an ongoing cholera outbreak and harsh weather conditions with heavy rain and snow.
Two eyewitnesses who have lived in the affected region of Idlib in Syria have shared their perspectives on the earthquake’s aftermath. Dr. Mostafa Edo, the United States-based NGO MedGlobal’s Country Director, expressed his heartbreak after learning that a colleague and his family were killed in the collapse of a building. Meanwhile, photojournalist Khalil Ashawi, who has covered the war in Syria for the past ten years, reported that he has never seen such “disastrous” scenes as he did on the day of the earthquake.
According to Syria’s Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), the earthquake caused damage to several archeological sites in the country. This includes the Imam Ismail Mosque, Shmemis Castle in Hama Governorate, and the 13th-century Aleppo Citadel. The ongoing civil war has already seriously impacted the ancient city of Aleppo. DGAM reports that the Monday quake further damaged artifacts within the National Museum in the city.
Rescue Teams Deployed to Turkey and Syria
In response to the recent earthquake, Turkey’s Interior Minister, Suleyman Soylu, announced that search and rescue teams had been dispatched to the affected region in the country’s south. The governor of Istanbul, Ali Yerlikaya, reported that nearly 1,000 search and rescue volunteers, along with dogs, trucks, and aid, have been deployed from the city. Additionally, the Disaster & Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) has requested international assistance through the European Union’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC).
The World Health Organization has also activated its emergency medical teams in Turkey and Syria to assist those affected by the disaster. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also stated in a televised address that NATO, the European Union, and numerous other countries have offered to help with the relief effort. The governor of Gaziantep, Davut Gul, took to Twitter to inform the public about the earthquake’s impact on their city. He stated that the earthquake was felt strongly and advised residents to avoid panicking and remain outside their homes. He requested the public to refrain from using their vehicles, avoid congesting main roads, and keeps their phones open for emergencies.
Moreover, The province of Gaziantep is home to several small to medium-sized cities and a large number of refugees, as reported by Asli Aydintasbas, a fellow at the Brookings Institute. According to Asli Aydintasbas, Gaziantep province comprises cities that vary in wealth, with some relatively well-off and others economically challenged. Some of the areas that have been heavily affected by the disaster are low-income regions.