A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake has struck southern Turkey and northern Syria, killing more than 2,800 people.
The quake was centred in the town of Pazarcik in Kahramanmaras province about 60 miles from the Syrian border outside the city of Gaziantep, a major Turkish provincial capital. The US Geological Survey said the quake was centred about 20 miles from Gaziantep and was 11 miles deep.
At least 20 aftershocks followed, some hours later during daylight, with the strongest measuring 6.6, Turkish authorities said. The death toll of at least 1,900 is expected to rise further as hundreds of people are still believed to be trapped under rubble as rescue workers continue to search in cities and towns across the area.
A second earthquake, with a 7.5 magnitude, also hit central Turkey at around 13:30 local time (10:30 GMT). The quake struck the Elbistan district of Turkey’s Kahramanmaras province and lies around 80 miles directly north of Gaziantep, where the epicentre of the first earthquake struck this morning.
The European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) and US Geological Survey are both reporting a second quake, and said it was "not an aftershock". The EMSC said the latest earthquake struck around 100km to the north of this morning’s quake, and was followed 12 minutes later by a strong magnitude 6 aftershock. It said: “Again, it is an exceptionally difficult situation for populations. A major assistance will be required.”
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared a seven day period of national mourning after confirming that the death toll had risen to 1,500 in Turkey, The death toll in government-controlled areas of Syria was more than 430, while rebel-controlled areas reported deaths in the range of 380.
President Erdogan said: “Because the debris removal efforts are continuing in many buildings in the earthquake zone, we do not know how high the number of dead and injured will rise. Hopefully, we will leave these disastrous days behind us in unity and solidarity as a country and a nation.”
Buildings were flattened in the Turkish city of Adana, while further east in Diyarbakir, cranes and rescue teams rushed people on stretchers out of a mountain of pancaked concrete floors that was once an apartment building.
On the Syrian side of the border, the first quake smashed opposition-held regions packed with some four million people who were displaced from other parts of Syria by the country’s long civil war. Raed Salah, the head of the White Helmets, the emergency organisation in opposition areas, said whole neighbourhoods were collapsed in some areas. The earthquake, which was felt as far away as Cairo, struck a region that has been shaped by more than a decade of civil war in Syria.
Millions of Syrian refugees live in Turkey and the swath of Syria affected by the quake is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that “search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched” to the areas hit by the quake. He wrote: “We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage”.
Collapsed buildings were also reported in a cross-border region extending from Syria’s cities of Aleppo and Hama to Turkey’s Diyarbakir, more than 200 miles to the north-east.
In Turkey, people trying to leave the quake-stricken regions caused traffic jams, hampering efforts of emergency teams trying to reach the affected areas. Authorities urged residents not to take to the roads. Meanwhile, Mosques around the region were being opened up as a shelter for people unable to return to damaged homes as temperatures hovered around freezing.
The quake heavily damaged Gaziantep’s historic castle which sits perched on a hill in the centre of the city. Parts of the fortresses’ walls and watchtowers were levelled and other parts were heavily damaged, images from the city showed. In Diyarbakir, rescue teams called for silence as they tried to listen for survivors under the wreckage of an 11-storey building.
In north-west Syria, the quake added new woes to the opposition-held enclave centred on the province of Idlib, which has been under siege for years, with frequent Russian and government air strikes. The territory depends on a flow of aid from nearby Turkey for everything from food to medical supplies.
The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence described the situation there as “disastrous”, adding that entire buildings have collapsed and people are trapped under the rubble. In the small Syrian rebel-held town of Azmarin in the mountains by the Turkish border, the bodies of several dead children, wrapped in blankets, were taken to a hospital.
Buildings also shook in Damascus and residents were jolted awake in Lebanon as the quake rumbled buildings for about 40 seconds. Many residents of Beirut left their homes and took to the streets or drove in their cars away from buildings.
Turkey sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. In 1999, some 18,000 were killed in powerful earthquakes that hit the northwest of the country.