Harrowing day Residents retrieve an injured girl from the rubble of a collapsed building following an earthquake in the town of Jandaris, in the countryside of Syria’s northwestern city of Afrin in the rebel-held part of Aleppo province, on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. AFP PHOTO

Quake kills over 1,200 acros Turkey, Syria

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey: The most powerful earthquake in nearly a century struck Turkey and Syria early Monday, killing over 1,200 people in their sleep, levelling buildings and causing tremors felt as far away as Iraq.

The 7.8-magnitude quake wiped out entire sections of major Turkish cities in a restless region filled with millions of people who have fled the civil war in Syria and other conflicts.

The head of Syria’s National Earthquake Center, Raed Ahmed, told pro-government radio that this was “the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the center.”

At least 326 people died in government-controlled parts of Syria, according to the latest toll.

At least 912 people also died in Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Shocked survivors in Turkey rushed out into the snow-covered streets in their pajamas, watching rescuers dig through the debris of damaged homes with their hands.

“Seven members of my family are under the debris,” Muhittin Orakci, a stunned survivor in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, told Agence France-Presse.

“My sister and her three children are there. And also her husband, her father-in-law and her mother-in-law.”

The rescue was being hampered by a winter blizzard that covered major roads in ice and snow. Officials said the quake made three major airports in the area inoperable, further complicating deliveries of vital aid.

Election test for Erdogan

The quake struck at 04:17 a.m. (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 17.9 kilometers (11 miles) near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, which is home to around two million people, the US Geological Survey said.

Turkey’s AFAD emergencies service center put the quake’s magnitude at 7.7, updating an initial estimate of 7.4.

Erdogan, who will be under intense pressure to oversee an effective response to the disaster heading to a tightly-contested May 14 election, conveyed his sympathies and urged national unity.

“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage,” the Turkish leader tweeted.

Washington, the European Union, and Russia all immediately sent condolences and offers of help.

Turkey also received a message of support from its historic rival Greece, whose relations with Ankara have suffered from a spate of border and cultural disputes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered to provide “the necessary assistance” to Turkey, whose combat drones are helping Kyiv fight the Russian invasion.

Iran, which together with Russia, is trying to help Ankara restore its relations with Damascus following its efforts to help oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, sent separate messages of condolence to both sides.

‘People under rubble’

Images on Turkish television showed rescuers digging through rubble across city centers and residential neighborhoods of almost all the big cities running along the border with Syria.

Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the quake’s epicenter between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, where entire city blocks lay in ruins under the gathering snow.

Kahramanmaras Gov. Omer Faruk Coskun said it was too early to estimate the death toll because so many buildings were destroyed.

“It is not possible to give the number of dead and injured at the moment because so many buildings have been destroyed,” Coskun said. “The damage is serious.”

A famous mosque dating back to the 13th century partially collapsed in the province of Maltaya, where a 14-story building with 28 apartments collapsed.

Several hours after the major temblor, A 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck southeast Turkey, the US Geological Survey said.

The shallow quake hit at 1:24 p.m. (1024 GMT) four kilometers (2.5 miles) south-southeast of the town of Ekinozu.

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