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Civil defence workers and security forces search through the wreckage of collapsed buildings in Hama, Syria Alamy Stock Photo

Rescue efforts continuing in Turkey and Syria following large earthquakes as death toll rises

Ireland, the US, the EU and Russia have all sent condolences and offers of help.

LAST UPDATE | 6 Feb 2023

RESCUE WORKERS ARE continuing to search for people trapped under rubble in Turkey and Syria after the most powerful earthquake in nearly a century struck the countries in the early hours of Monday morning.

The initial quake of 7.8-magnitude struck southern Turkey and northern Syria in the early hours.

That quake was followed by more than 50 aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude tremor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue work this afternoon. 

Multi-storey apartment buildings full of residents were among the 5,606 structures reduced to rubble in Turkey, while Syria announced dozens of collapses, as well as damage to archaeological sites in Aleppo.

“That was the first time we have ever experienced anything like that,” said Melisa Salman, a 23-year-old reporter in the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras.

“We thought it was the apocalypse.”

The head of Syria’s National Earthquake Centre, Raed Ahmed, called it “the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the centre”.

Turkey has declared seven days of mourning for the dead.

As of 8pm on Monday, over 3,000 people were confirmed to have died in total, with the death toll expected to rise further.

At least 1,293 people were confirmed to have died in rebel and government-controlled parts of Syria, state media and medical sources said, while Turkish officials reported another 1,762 fatalities.

The rescue is being hampered by a winter blizzard that has 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.

Turkey’s last 7.8-magnitude tremor was in 1939, when 33,000 died in the eastern Erzincan province.

‘Ran for the door’

Today’s first quake struck at 4.17am (12.17am Irish time) at a depth of about 18 kilometres near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, which is home to around two million people, the US Geological Survey said.

Denmark’s geological institute said tremors from the main quake reached the east coast of Greenland about eight minutes after the tremor struck Turkey.

Osama Abdel Hamid, a quake survivor in Syria, said his family was sleeping when the shaking began.

“I woke up my wife and my children and we ran towards the door,” he said. “We opened it and suddenly all the building collapsed.”

A spokesman for Syria’s civil defence said teams were scrambling to rescue trapped people.

“Many buildings in different cities and villages in northwestern Syria collapsed … Even now, many families are under the rubble,” said Ismail Alabdallah. 

embedded168ef008e7dd4c8d8d1a4f07735cc550 The death toll is expected to increase IHA agency / PA Images IHA agency / PA Images / PA Images

‘People under rubble’

Images on Turkish television have shown rescuers digging through rubble across city centres and residential neighbourhoods of almost all the big cities running along the border with Syria.

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

A famous mosque dating back to the 13th century partially collapsed in the province of Maltaya, where a 14-story building with 28 apartments that housed 92 people also collapsed.

In other cities, social media posts showed a 2,200-year-old hilltop castle built by Roman armies in Gaziantep lying in ruins, its walls partially turned to rubble.

“We hear voices here – and over there, too,” one rescuer was overheard as saying on NTV television in front of a flattened building in the city of Diyarbakir.

“There may be 200 people under the rubble.”

turkey-earthquake AP Graphics / PA Images AP Graphics / PA Images / PA Images

Power outages

The Syrian health ministry reported damage across the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Tartus, where Russia is leasing a naval facility.

AFP correspondents in northern Syria said terrified residents ran out of their homes after the ground shook.

Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo – Syria’s pre-war commercial hub – often collapsed due to the dilapidated infrastructure, which has suffered from lack of war-time oversight.

Officials cut off natural gas and power supplies across the region as a precaution, also closing schools for two weeks.

“The size of the aftershocks, which may continue for days although mostly decreasing in energy, brings a risk of collapse of structures already weakened by the earlier events,” David Rothery, an earthquake expert at the Open University in Britain.

“This makes search and rescue efforts dangerous.”

Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

The Turkish region of Duzce suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999, when more than 17,000 people died – including about 1,000 in Istanbul.

Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.

embeddedc49dceb1e4844552ad4b5391368628a3 People search through the wreckage of a collapsed building in Azmarin town, in Idlib province, northern Syria Ghaith Alsayed / PA Images Ghaith Alsayed / PA Images / PA Images

EU support

Ireland, the United States, the European Union and Russia have all sent condolences and offers of help.

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin announced that Ireland will send €2 million in emergency assistance to Turkey and Syria yesterday evening.

The Embassy of Ireland in Turkey has said Irish citizens who are in the affected area and need urgent consular assistance can the out of hours duty service on +90 312 459 10 00.

Martin has said he is “shocked and saddened to learn of the devastating earthquake”.

“Our thoughts go to all those who lost loved ones, the injured, and first responders,” Martin said. 

“Ireland stands ready to support local and international relief efforts.

In a statement this afternoon President Michael D Higgins said he offers his “profound sympathy on behalf of the people of Ireland to the peoples of Türkiye and Syria who are experiencing the devastating earthquakes”.

“All of our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones and those have been injured, and we send our support to those emergency services who continue with the work of rescuing and protection of those impacted by these terrible tragedies,” Higgins said. 

“As President of Ireland, I wish to assure those members of the Turkish and Syrian communities living in Ireland who may have relatives directly impacted that we are offering them our solidarity at this time.”

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

The European Union is sending rescue teams and preparing further help for Turkey after a major earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, the bloc’s crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarcic said. 

“Teams from the Netherlands and Romania are already on their way,” with the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre overseeing their deployment, Lenarcic tweeted.

He said that the bloc’s Civil Protection Mechanism had been activated to respond to the quake, which hit Turkey and Syria, causing deaths and destruction in both countries.

His office said that Turkey had requested EU assistance.

Includes reporting by Press Association and © AFP 2023

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