Rescuers in Turkey and Syria braved freezing temperatures, aftershocks, and collapsing buildings Tuesday to search for survivors buried by an earthquake that killed over 5,000 people.
Several thousand buildings were destroyed in cities across a vast border region, according to disaster agencies, adding misery to an area already beleaguered by war, insurgency, refugee crises, and a recent cholera outbreak.
Throughout the night, survivors picked their way through the twisted ruins of multi-story apartment buildings, hoping to save family, friends, and anyone else who was sleeping inside when the first massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck early Monday.
“Where is my mother?” cried a distraught seven-year-old girl as she was dragged from a collapsed building in Hatay, Turkey, her face, hair, and pyjamas caked in dust.
Residents struggled to comprehend the magnitude of the disaster, leading to widespread disbelief.
Some of the worst devastation occurred near the epicenter of the quake, between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, a two-million-person city where entire blocks now lie in ruins under gathering snow.
As residents worked to clear a multi-story building’s mountain of masonry, plasterboard, and furniture, another collapsed nearby, sending crowds screaming and clamoring for help.
With aftershocks rattling the area, many terrified and exhausted survivors slept outside, unable to return home. Some huddled under bus shelters, others wrapped themselves in plastic to protect themselves from the freezing rain, and still others burned debris to stay warm.
While, overburdened medics struggled to treat an estimated 20,000 injured people.
Earthquake Felt in Greenland
The initial earthquake was felt as far away as Greenland, and it was followed by a series of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude tremor on Monday in the middle of search and rescue operations. The devastation was devastating, prompting a global response from dozens of countries ranging from Ukraine to New Zealand to pledge assistance.
However, a winter blizzard has covered major roads into the area in ice and snow, and officials report that three major airports have been rendered inoperable, complicating the delivery of critical aid.
Years of war and aerial bombardment by Syrian and Russian forces have already decimated much of the quake-hit area of northern Syria, destroying homes, hospitals, and clinics.
The conflict is already influencing the emergency response, with Syria’s UN envoy, Bassam Sabbagh, appearing to rule out reopening border crossings that would allow aid to reach areas controlled by rebel groups. The Syrian health ministry reported damage in Aleppo, Latakia, Hama, and Tartus, where Russia leases a naval base.
Cities in Syria Devastated
Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo, Syria’s pre-war commercial centre, frequently collapsed due to deteriorating infrastructure. As a precaution, officials cut off natural gas and power supplies throughout the region, and schools were closed for two weeks.
UNESCO, the United Nations Cultural Organization, expressed concern about heavy damage in two cities on its list: Aleppo, Syria, and Diyarbakir, Turkey.
The United States, the European Union, and Thailand all expressed their condolences and pledged assistance.
President Joe Biden promised his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the US would send “any and all” aid needed to assist in the recovery from a devastating earthquake.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has offered “the necessary assistance” to Turkey, whose combat drones are assisting Kyiv in fighting the Russian invasion.
On Tuesday, Chinese state media reported that Beijing was sending rescuers, medical teams, and other supplies.
Turkey is located in one of the most active earthquake zones on the planet. The country’s last 7.8-magnitude earthquake occurred in 1939, killing 33,000 people in the eastern Erzincan province.
In 1999, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck the Turkish region of Duzce, killing over 17,000 people.
Experts have long warned that a large earthquake could devastate Istanbul, a 16-million-person metropolis with rickety housing.