More than 3,400 people have died after earthquakes hammer Turkey and Syria
Updated February 6, 2023 at 5:09 PM ET
A powerful earthquake rocked southeastern Turkey and northern Syria early Monday, killing more than 3,400 people and injuring thousands more.
The 7.8 magnitude quake hit at 4:17 a.m. local time in Turkey's Gaziantep province, the U.S. Geological Survey says.
Hundreds of families are still trapped, according to rescue workers. Turkey's Interior Disaster Ministry says it has deployed over 9,600 search and rescue personnel to look for possible survivors. More than 2,800 buildings have collapsed, authorities said.
Citing Turkish authorities, the AP reports at least 2,316 people were killed in 10 provinces, and more than 13,000 were injured.
In Syria, at least 1,106 people have died, according to the AP. Syria's Health Ministry says more than 650 people were killed in government-held areas, and about 1,400 are believed to have been injured. Groups in the rebel-held northwest say the death toll is at least 450.
Aftershocks continue to rock the region
Rescue efforts were complicated on Monday by a series of aftershocks: At least 55 earthquakes of magnitude 4.3 or greater have struck near Turkey's Syrian border in the past 24 hours, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The first quake was the largest: a 7.8 magnitude temblor that hit at 4:17 a.m. local time. Since then, at least 15 of the quakes have been magnitude 5.0 or greater, and two have been at 6.0 or more, the USGS says.
The quakes are concentrated in a small area, with two of the farthest-flung epicenters separated by only around 200 miles.
The powerful aftershocks have unleashed danger and panic on the public — as epitomized by a TV news crew that documented the moment yet another strong quake forced people to flee, hoping to escape dangers posed by collapsing buildings and the shaking ground.
Some tried to escape in their cars, which jammed the roads and made it even harder for emergency services to reach the wounded. In Turkey, mosques opened as shelters for those who can't go home.
Bad weather is complicating search and rescue efforts
The country had been bracing for a snowstorm, with Turkish Airlines canceling more than 200 flights for Sunday and Monday because of expected conditions. In nearby Greece, heavy snowfall shut down schools, shops and many in-person businesses and public services in Athens on Monday.
The earthquake in northern Syria hit parts of the country that have been already been devastated by more than a decade of civil war.
Millions of Syrians who fled fighting live in refugee camps or basic tented settlements established amid the olive groves that run along the border with Turkey.
The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), an organization that provides health care in rebel-held areas of northwest Syria, said "so far our hospitals in northwest Syria have received 91 dead and treated more than 500 severely injured victims of the earthquake."
Four of hospitals were damaged and evacuated, the organization said.
The United Nations monitoring body, the OCHA, says of the population of 4.6 million people in northwest Syria, some 4.1 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. More than 3 million residents of the area are food insecure.
World leaders send aid and condolences
More than 40 world leaders offered aid and assistance, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
President Biden issued a message saying he was "deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation" in Turkey and Syria. Biden said in a tweet that he has directed his administration to monitor the situation closely, to coordinate with Turkish officials and to "provide any and all needed assistance."
The U.S. aid response "is already underway" in Turkey, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement issued by the State Department. And in Syria, he added, humanitarian groups that are supported by the U.S. are also responding to the earthquake emergency there.
The U.S. response will include USAID — the U.S. Agency for International Development — and other federal agencies, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier Monday.
The United Nations General Assembly held a minute of silence for the more than 2,300 victims of the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey during its 58th meeting this morning.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres tweeted he is "deeply saddened" by the news of the earthquakes before the meeting. The tweet also offered emergency response support.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also announced Monday that NATO allies would mobilize to help Turkey. Relations between the alliance and Turkey remained tense after Turkish President Erdogan blocked bids by Sweden and Finland to join the alliance in May.
"Full solidarity with our Ally Türkiye in the aftermath of this terrible earthquake," Stoltenberg posted on his Twitter account. "I am in touch with President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevult Cavusoglu, and NATO Allies are mobilizing support now."
Similarly, Israel's decision to send search and rescue crews to Turkey reflected warming ties between the countries after years of tension.
Thousands of search and rescue staff have been mobilized
Even war-torn Ukraine, Turkey's neighbor across the Black Sea, offered to assist with disaster recovery. Turkey, a member of NATO that has remained friendly with both Ukraine and Russia, has used its influence to push for peace talks and help mediate a grain deal between the two countries.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said hundreds of staff and volunteers with the Turkish Red Crescent are supporting people on the ground with mobile kitchens, catering vehicles, tents and blankets.
Monday's earthquake was one of the country's worst disasters in decades. The size and scope of the seismic activity makes it roughly the equivalent of a 1999 earthquake that hit Turkey, one of the deadliest quakes in history that killed more than 17,000 people.
Among the damaged structures right now is a 2,000-year-old castle in southeastern Turkey, according to state and local reports.
Gaziantep Castle — located in the heart of the city closest to the quake's epicenter — had previously withstood multiple invasions, renovations and regime changes.
NPR's Ruth Sherlock, Jawad Rizkallah, Emma Bowman, Ayana Archie, Daniel Estrin and Jojo Macaluso contributed reporting.
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