Istanbul The death toll from the devastating earthquakes in the Turkish-Syrian border area has risen to more than 4,200. The head of the Turkish civil protection authority Afad, Yunus Sezer, said the number of deaths in his own country was 2,921 on Tuesday night. In addition, 15,834 “our citizens” were injured. According to the Ministry of Health and the rescue organization White Helmets, at least 1,300 people died in Syria on Monday evening.
The final extent of the disaster was still unclear, numerous people were missing under the rubble. Relatives and rescue workers continued to search for buried people on Tuesday night.
On Tuesday morning, a new earthquake with a magnitude of 5.6 shook central Turkey, according to the European earthquake monitoring station EMSC. The epicenter was at a depth of two kilometers.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed the population in a televised speech. “Since the removal of rubble from many buildings in the earthquake area is still ongoing, we do not know how high the number of dead and injured will be,” Erdogan said. He declared a week of national mourning.
A 7.7 magnitude earthquake caused severe shaking in southern Turkey and northern Syria early Monday morning (local time). On both sides of the border, residents were woken up by the first tremor several hours before sunrise and rushed outside on a cold and rainy winter night. During several aftershocks, including one with a magnitude of 7.5, numerous television cameras were running and recorded live as houses collapsed.
The shockwaves were felt across Turkey and as far afield as the Balkans and Israel. Regional airports in the cities of Kahramanmaras, Gaziantep and Hatay have been closed, as have numerous roads in the area that have been destroyed. A 1,600-year-old castle in the city of Gaziantep was partially destroyed.
Erdogan described the disaster as the biggest earthquake since 1939. According to EU officials, it was one of the strongest in the region in more than 100 years.
Further earthquakes, cold and snow complicate the relief and search operations. Countless people are currently outdoors due to warnings of aftershocks or because their houses and accommodations have collapsed – despite the freezing cold, the aid organization Care reported on Monday in Bonn. Due to the extreme weather and snowfall, many roads are impassable and numerous warehouses and supplies cannot be reached. Turkey asked its NATO partners for three field hospitals suitable for extreme weather conditions.
According to video recordings, numerous buildings have also collapsed in Syria, and there has also been destruction in refugee camps near the Turkish border. According to unconfirmed information, 250 buildings and 400 houses have collapsed in the north of Aleppo alone. In the rebel stronghold of Idlib, drone images show that entire settlements have been razed to the ground. Other videos show houses collapsing as a result of the aftershocks.
Houses collapse in front of camera in second earthquake
calls for help on social media
Many Turkish people who were still lying under the rubble of their collapsed houses sought help via Twitter. “There are six of us and we don’t know when the debris will collapse around us,” wrote a woman from the town of Kahramanmaras, near the epicenter. Another victim wrote: “I’m trapped under rubble, bleeding and passing out. If nobody helps me, I will die.”
Turkey has received offers of help from more than 45 countries. Among other things, rescue teams, paramedics and reconstruction workers from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, England and Hungary flew to the south-east of the country.
Germany will also help in northern Syria through aid organizations such as Malteser International, the Federal Foreign Office said. A crisis team is to meet in the afternoon to coordinate German aid. “We will set in motion all the help that we can activate,” said Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser. Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made similar statements.
The US offered “any help needed.” Countries with which Turkey in particular is at odds also offered support. Old conflicts could thus be softened. Despite severe tensions with Ankara, Greece agreed to send rescue teams to the earthquake area.
Scholz on the earthquake: “We suffer with you”
The two NATO members had already helped each other in severe earthquakes in 1999. This aid, known as “earthquake diplomacy”, ushered in a phase of détente. Finland and Sweden also announced help despite the Turkish blockade of their NATO applications. Israel wants to help Turkey and Syria.
Russia had pledged aid to both countries on Monday. In the coming hours, rescue workers from the Russian civil defense are to be flown to Syria, the Kremlin said. The Turkish head of state Erdogan also wants to accept Russian help, according to the Kremlin.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi sent messages of condolence on Monday, state news agency IRNA reported. Tehran is ready to provide immediate assistance. Along with Russia, Iran is the most important ally of Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad in the civil war.
Syria conflict complicates aid
One of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake on Monday night was the Syrian region of Idlib, which is held by rebels. According to observers, this should make emergency aid more difficult there. Just a few months ago, the governments in Ankara and Damascus announced that they were negotiating an end to the diplomatic ice age.
A common fate could now bring the two countries together. In northern Syria, the Turkish government has long been fighting for a buffer zone and financial support for the resettlement of refugees. International donors have struggled to transfer money to rebel-held areas.
Turkey is repeatedly affected by severe earthquakes. Two of the largest continental plates meet there: the African and the Eurasian. In fact, most of the Turkish population lives in constant danger of earthquakes.
In October 2020, more than 100 people died in Izmir in one of the most serious earthquakes in recent years. In 1999, Turkey was hit by one of the worst natural disasters in its history: a magnitude 7.4 earthquake in the region around the north-western industrial city of Izmit claimed the lives of more than 17,000 people. Experts are also expecting a strong earthquake in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, in the near future.
With material from dpa and Reuters.
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