As the number of people who died from a strong earthquake that hit southeastern Turkey and northern Syria early Monday morning rose, search and rescue efforts were already under way. The earthquake and its aftershocks have caused a new humanitarian crisis in a part of the world that has already been shaken by Syria’s civil war for more than a decade.
The Associated Press said that the quake killed more than 1,300 people and hurt hundreds more in Turkey and Syria. In cities all over the border region, hundreds of buildings fell down.
The centre of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake was about 20 miles (33 km) from Gaziantep, according to the US Geological Survey. It was centred 18 kilometres (11 miles) deep. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake was felt in Lebanon, Cyprus, Iraq, and Egypt, as well as in Syria.
The AP said that at least 284 people were killed in seven Turkish provinces. They got this information from Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management agency. The organisation said that 440 people were hurt. Syrian state media told the AP that 237 people have died and more than 630 have been hurt in areas controlled by the government. The White Helmets say that at least 120 people were killed in rebel-held areas.
In a tweet, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “Full solidarity with our ally Turkey in the wake of this terrible earthquake. NATO Allies are mobilising support right now.”
Images posted on social media from the south of Turkey and the northeast of Syria showed scared families running through the rain or snow while buildings fell around them. In Lebanon, the earthquake was strong enough to shake entire buildings.
Several buildings fell down in northeast Syria because of the earthquake. Local journalists took video of scared families running through the rain and darkness away from their broken homes.
Raed Saleh, who is in charge of the White Helmets civil defence group in northern Syria, told NPR that the situation is really bad. He said that towns and cities in all of northern Syria are affected. “In all of these places, buildings have fallen down and are being fixed by teams. And there are people buried under all of these buildings. All of the hospitals are very full. The situation is tragic in every way.
“We don’t know how much damage has been done or how many people have died,” he said. He said that on his way to the group’s operations room, he saw three buildings that had fallen down with people still inside. They are getting help from rescue teams, and he is in charge of coordinating the whole search and rescue mission. “Because of the damage, I’m telling people to stay outside in the streets instead of in their homes. Because these buildings could fall, it might not be safe for them to stay at home. But there is a storm with rain and snow going on right now.”
Hamid Qutayni, a rescue worker with the White Helmets, told NPR that “tens of families” are stuck under buildings that have fallen down. He made a list of how many people are known to have died in each city or town. “There are seven deaths in Sarmada, two deaths in Ma’arrat Misrin, and three deaths in Darkush, one of which is a child. Three children have also died in Deres. Deaths have also been reported from villages in the countrysides of northern Aleppo and Idlib. Everyone is sending in reports because the situation is so bad.”
Parts of Syria that had already been destroyed by more than a decade of civil war were hit by the earthquake in the north. In Idlib and Aleppo, the war has already done a lot of damage to basic infrastructure. Millions of Syrians who fled fighting in other parts of the country also live in the area. Many of them live in refugee camps or simple tent cities set up in the olive groves along the border with Turkey.
The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), which helps people in rebel-held areas of Northwest Syria get medical care, said: “So far, 91 earthquake victims have died in our hospitals in northwest Syria, and more than 500 have been seriously hurt. Four of our hospitals were hurt, so people had to leave. The rest are too many to handle.
“Our team in Syria says that there have been a lot of deaths and damage to buildings. Many are thought to be dead, “he said to NPR. “The last thing people in Syria need is this. Crisis after crisis has happened. Already, people are worn out.”
The OCHA, which is a part of the UN, says that of the 4.6 million people who live in northwest Syria, about 4.1 million need help from the UN. More than three million people in the area don’t have enough food to eat.
During the conflict, there has been a lot of damage to the hospitals in the area. Idlib is not in a part of Syria that is run by the government. Its hospitals have been hit by airstrikes many times by the Syrian regime’s air force or by Russia, which backs the regime. Because there have been so many airstrikes, doctors and aid groups have set up hospitals underground to protect patients from the attacks.