Frantic search for survivors after massive earthquake rocks Turkey, Syria; Over 5,000 dead: Updates
The death toll surged to more than 5,000 early Tuesday after a powerful, pre-dawn earthquake Monday and series of strong aftershocks collapsed thousands of buildings along the Turkish-Syrian border.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.8 quake struck at 4:17 a.m. local time in the southern Turkish province of Kahramanmaras, about 20 miles from the city of Gaziantep. Scores of aftershocks followed, authorities said. Hours later, a 7.5 magnitude quake struck more than 60 miles away.
Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay said the total number of deaths in Turkey had risen to 3,419, with another 20,534 people injured. That brought the number of people killed to 5,102, with another 1,602 people confirmed dead on the Syrian side of the border. In the country’s rebel-held northwest, groups that operate there said at least 450 people died, with many hundreds injured.
The region was already battered by 12 years of the Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis it has created.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at least 11,000 people are injured and he declared seven days of national mourning. Later in the day, he spoke with President Joe Biden, who pledged U.S. assistance. The White House said that included sending two urban search and rescue teams.
TO OFFER SUPPORT: How you can help earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria: These groups are taking donations
An untold number were believed trapped under the rubble of thousands of collapsed buildings, and the injury and death toll was expected to rise as rescue workers dug through the wreckage. Thousands of survivors were left homeless in the cold rain and snow.
There were also stories of rescues as first responders and volunteers, some with detection dogs, picked through the rubble. The Turkish defense ministry released a video of a mother and her 2-year-old child being extricated safely from rubble in the city of Gaziantep.
"Hurry up please because my daughter is passing out," the woman says as rescuers work feverishly to save them. The young girl is rescued first, and responders assure the woman that "your child has been rescued, she is alive." A few minutes later the woman is brought to safety.
►Ukraine Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country "stands ready to send a large group of rescue workers to Turkey to assist crisis response."
►Erdogan called the quake the country's biggest disaster since the 1939 Erzincan earthquake that killed more than 30,000 people. The region sits on top of major fault lines and about 18,000 were killed in earthquakes that hit northwest Turkey in 1999.
►Russia says it is readying rescue teams to fly to Turkey to help victims there and in neighboring Syria.
►British Premier League soccer team Newcastle United FC tweeted that it was "praying for some positive news" on the fate of former teammate Christian Atsu, who is reportedly among those trapped under the rubble in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras. Atsu, a Ghana native, signed with the Turkish team Hatayspor.
DEADLY QUAKE: More than 1,300 dead after powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake strikes near Turkey-Syria border
Search and rescue into frigid night
Thousands of search-and-rescue personnel, firefighters and medics across 10 Turkish provinces, along with some 3,500 soldiers and numerous civilians, defied cold, rainy weather, darkness and the threat of more aftershocks early Tuesday morning as they attempted to rescue survivors of Monday's devastating earthquake.
Residents lifted rubble and unearthed people heard screaming from beneath buildings, while in the province of Kahramanmaras, the epicenter, rescuers quieted the anxious crowds and called out for survivors in hopes of hearing voices that may indicate where they were buried. Two children and a barefoot man were pulled out alive.
In other instances, relatives waited hoping for similarly positive developments.
“My two grandchildren, my daughter-in-law, are all inside. They haven’t come out,” Hasan Birbalta said while waiting near a collapsed building in Pazarcik, adding the granddaughter is 2 and the grandson is 6.
In Adana, 100 miles southeast of the epicenter, rescuers used power saws to open up an escape route from a collapsed building before excavators joined the efforts as bright spotlights illuminated the wreckage.
Also in Adana, Imran Bahur begged workers to find her daughter and her family in the rubble of a destroyed apartment building.
“My grandson is 1 1/2 years old. Please help them, please," Bahur said. "We can’t hear them or get any news from them since morning. Please, they were on the 12th floor.”
Time, cold biggest problems facing rescuers
Erdogan adviser Ilnur Cevik said resources are not the problem hampering rescue efforts.
"You are working against time," he told the BBC. "The adverse weather conditions and people that are under the rubble, you have to save them before the weather drops in and kills these people because of the cold. So people who are now under the rubble, there's a mad rush to get them out."
Cevik said searchers are using radar and body sensors to find survivors "but you know there's so much widespread devastation that you can't reach everywhere."
Orhan Tatar, an official with Turkey’s disaster management authority, said 7,840 people had been rescued across 10 provinces and 5,606 buildings had collapsed.
Quake struck region already torn by civil war
The quake struck a region that has been battered on both sides of the border by more than a decade of civil war in Syria. On the Syrian side, the region is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey is home to millions of refugees from that conflict.
About 4 million people live in the opposition-held regions in Syria, many of them displaced from other parts of the country by the fighting. Many of the residential buildings were already unsafe because of bombardments, and recovery is expected to be extremely difficult.
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said 224 buildings in northwestern Syria were destroyed and at least 325 were damaged, including aid warehouses. The U.N. had been assisting 2.7 million people each month via cross-border deliveries, which could now be disrupted.
In the small Syrian rebel-held town of Azmarin in the mountains by the Turkish border, the bodies of several dead children were brought to a hospital wrapped in blankets.
An hour's drive to the southeast in Idlib, Osama Abdel Hamid said he, his wife and three children were fleeing their collapsed four-story building, where most of their neighbors died, when a wooden door fell on them and protected them from falling debris.
“God gave me a new lease on life,” he said.
Biden offers aid as rescuers hunt for survivors
Over 9,000 personnel were carrying out search and rescue operations in Turkey and more support from other regions was on the way, Erdogan said.
"We have started to be contacted for international aid," he said. "Besides offers of assistance by NATO and the EU, 45 countries have reached out to us."
The Biden administration issued a statement expressing concern, adding that "we stand ready to provide any and all needed assistance." President Joe Biden, who spoke Monday with Erdogan, has directed USAID and other federal government agencies to "assess U.S. response options to help those most affected," coordinating efforts with the Turkish government.
2,000-year-old castle partially collapses
What wars and several centuries could not do was accomplished in seconds by Monday's massive earthquake -- it partially collapsed the Gaziantep Castle.
The castle stood guard over the southern Turkish city of the same name for nearly 2,000 years, but portions of it came tumbling down after the magnitude 7.8 shaker jolted the region, leveling several of the structure's 12 bastions.
The bastions dated to the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the mid-500s, Anadolu Agency reported.
-- Orlando Mayorquin
UN, World Health Organization respond
U.N. General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi extended “deepest sympathy and heartfelt condolences” to the people of both countries. He then asked diplomats to stand and observe a minute of silence in memory of those who died.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said the U.N. was counting on the international community to help those caught up in the disaster, "many of whom were already in dire need of humanitarian aid in areas where access is a challenge." Specialist U.N. surge teams from the Office of U.N. Disaster Assessment and Coordination tweeted that they were “ready to deploy.”
Emergency medical teams from the World Health Organization have been sent to provide essential care for the injured and most vulnerable, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted.
Israel puts conflict aside, offers aid to Syria
Israel has said it will send search and rescue and medical teams to Turkey and Syria. Syria does not recognize Israel and the two countries have remained at war, at least technically, since Israel was established in 1948. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had requests from and ordered aid airlifts to both countries.
"This is what we do around the world and this is what we do in areas close to us," Netanyahu said.
China also offered to aid Syria. “Beijing is ready to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to Syria according to the needs,” Xu Wei, spokesman for the China International Development Cooperation Agency, told the Xinhua news agency.
TRAGEDY IN TURKEY: Photos capture devastating aftermath of powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake
Thousands pulled from toppled buildings
Thousands of buildings were reported collapsed from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Hama to Turkey’s Diyarbakir, more than 200 miles to the northeast. Erdogan said he spoke with several mayors who reported almost 3,000 buildings had collapsed. About 2,500 people were pulled from the rubble, he said. Schools across much of the country will be closed for at least one week, and schools closer to the quake for two weeks, officials said.
Youth and Sports Minister Mehmet Kasapoglu said all national sports events to be held in Turkey have been suspended until further notice.
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Map of earthquake area
Trapped survivors call for help
Huseyin Yayman, a legislator from Turkey’s Hatay province, said several of his family members were stuck under the rubble of their collapsed homes.
“There are so many other people who are also trapped,” he told HaberTurk television by telephone. “There are so many buildings that have been damaged. People are on the streets. It’s raining, it’s winter.”
In Turkey, a student told the Chinese Xinhua news agency that three buildings fell near his home in Adana. He said he heard one survivor calling out from beneath the rubble, “I don’t have the strength anymore."
Quake felt in Egypt, Lebanon
In Damascus, buildings shook and residents ran into the streets. The quake jolted residents in Lebanon from beds, shaking buildings for about 40 seconds, and could be felt as far away as Egypt.
Many residents of Beirut left their homes, driving their cars away from buildings, terrorized by memories of the 2020 port explosion that wrecked a large portion of the city.
EU Council president pledges support
Condolences and offers of aid poured in from world leaders.
"Deeply saddened to hear this morning about the devastating earthquake hitting parts of Türkiye and Syria. My deepest condolences to the many families that lost lives and wishing a fast recovery of the injured," European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter. "The EU stands in full solidarity with you."
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted: "My thoughts are with the people of Türkiye and Syria this morning, particularly with those first responders working so valiantly to save those trapped by the earthquake. The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can."
Turkey creates 'air aid corridor' to deliver rescuers to the region
National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said a large number of military transport planes began to dispatch search and rescue teams and vehicles to the region. Ambulance planes also take part in the "air aid corridor," Akar said.
"We have maximized the readiness of our aircraft to provide the necessary transportation service," he said.
Contributing: Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Earthquake updates: Turkey, Syria death toll; strong aftershocks