World leaders yesterday mourned over 3,000 persons killed in a huge earthquake which swept across a swathe of Turkiye and Northwest Syria.
The disaster came with freezing winter weather adding to the plight of the thousands left injured or homeless and hampering efforts to find survivors.
The magnitude 7.8 quake brought down whole apartment blocks in Turkish cities and piled more devastation on millions of Syrians displaced by years of war.
It struck before sunrise in harsh weather and was followed in the early afternoon by another large quake.
“It was like the apocalypse,” Abdul Salam al-Mahmoud, a Syrian in the northern town of Atareb, said, adding that “it’s bitterly cold and there’s heavy rain, and people need saving.”
The second quake was big enough to bring down more buildings and, like the first, was felt across the region, endangering rescuers struggling to pull casualties from the rubble.
In Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey, a woman speaking next to the wreckage of the seven-storey block where she lived said, “We were shaken like a cradle. There were nine of us at home. Two sons of mine are still in the rubble, I’m waiting.”
She was nursing a broken arm and had injuries to her face.
The earthquake was the biggest recorded worldwide by the U.S. Geological survey since a tremor in the remote South Atlantic on August 2.
In Turkey, the death toll stood at 1,651, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said, and 11,119 people were recorded as injured. At least 1,073 people were killed in Syria, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue workers in the northwestern region controlled by insurgents.
Poor internet connections and damaged roads between some of the worst-hit cities in Turkiye’s south, homes to millions of people, hindered efforts to assess and address the impact.
Temperatures in some areas were expected to fall to near freezing overnight, worsening conditions for people trapped under rubble or left homeless. Rain fell on Monday after snowstorms swept the country at the weekend.
Monday’s casualties already mark the highest death toll from an earthquake inTurkiye since 1999 when a tremor of similar magnitude devastated the heavily populated eastern Marmara Sea region near Istanbul, killing more than 17,000.
President Tayyip Erdogan, who is preparing for a tough election in May, called it a historic disaster and the worst earthquake to hit the country since 1939, but said authorities were doing all they could.
“Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts although the winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night makes things more difficult,” he said.
In Syria, already wrecked by more than 11 years of civil war, the health ministry said 593 people had been killed and more than 1,326 injured. In the Syrian rebel-held northwest emergency workers said 480 people had died.
The US Geological Survey said the earthquake was centered about 33km (20 miles) from Gaziantep, a major city and provincial capital. It was about 18km (11 miles) deep, with a 7.5 quake hitting in the same region hours later amid several aftershocks.
Dozens of countries have pledged to aid in search and rescue operations.
United States (US) President Joe Biden said he is “deeply saddened” by the earthquake in Turkiye and Syria and has promised Washington’s assistance for the two countries.
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation caused by the earthquake in Turkiye and Syria. I have directed my team to continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with Turkiye and provide any and all needed assistance,” the president tweeted from his official account.
In the same vein, the Vatican said Pope Francis is “deeply saddened” by the major earthquake that hit Turkiye and Syria.
“His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the huge loss of life caused by the earthquake… he sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom (UK) said it will send search and rescue specialists and an emergency medical team to Turkey.
The British foreign ministry said 76 search and rescue specialists will arrive in Turkiye yesterday evening along with four search dogs and rescue equipment.
“We stand ready to provide further support as needed,” James Cleverly, the UK’s foreign secretary, said in a statement.
On the home front, President Muhammadu Buhari has extended heartfelt commiserations to the governments and people of Turkiye and Syria, and those who lost family and friends in the devastating earthquake in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep.
The president, in a statement by his media aide, Femi Adesina, wished those injured a speedy recovery and assured that the prayers and thoughts of Nigerians are with the many affected by the severe disaster and its aftershocks.
As a steadfast friend to Turkiye and Syria, President Buhari said Nigeria is ready to offer its full support in any way possible.