The border between Turkey and Syria was hit early on Monday by a brutal earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, leaving more than 2,300 people dead and more than 8,000 injured, as well as widespread devastation in the area, Turkish and Syrian authorities confirmed.
Some 1,700 buildings collapsed on Turkish territory in a strip between the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Hama and the Turkish enclave of Diyarbakir, more than 330 kilometres to the northeast, as confirmed by Fuat Oktay, Turkey's vice president.
The 7.8-magnitude quake struck shortly after 4 a.m. local time on Monday, 23 kilometres east of Nurdagi, Gaziantep province, southeast of Turkish territory at a depth of 24.1 kilometres, according to US Geological Survey data, 90 kilometres from the Syrian border.
In addition to the more than 2,300 dead and more than 8,000 injured between the two countries, according to authorities such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, there are also estimated to be thousands of people missing as a result of this devastating earthquake. In view of the situation, Ankara has announced the creation of an air bridge to send humanitarian aid to the affected area. For their part, the White Helmets declared a state of emergency in the area of Syria affected by the earthquake, the strongest recorded in Syrian territory in more than three decades.
The quake was of such magnitude that tremors were felt in Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Egypt. Rescuers and residents searched desperately for survivors under the rubble of collapsed buildings in several towns on both sides of the Turkish-Syrian border. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that "search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched" to areas affected by the quake. "We hope that we will overcome this disaster together as soon as possible and with as little damage as possible," he said. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu urged citizens not to enter damaged buildings because of the risks. "Our priority is to get people trapped under collapsed buildings out and transfer them to hospitals," he said.
Cumhurbaşkanı Yardımcısı Fuat Oktay açıklama yapıyor. https://t.co/6ApZkFx7xQ— TRT Haber Canlı (@trthabercanli) February 6, 2023
The main quake was followed by at least 20 aftershocks a few hours later, the strongest of 6.6, as confirmed by the Turkish authorities.
In Syria, the quake destroyed opposition-held regions that are home to millions of people displaced from other parts of Syria by the country's long-running civil war pitting opponents and rebels against the government of Bashar al-Assad. Many of them were already living in deplorable conditions, with Russia-backed Syrian pro-government forces surrounding the area and at times carrying out air strikes. Rescue teams said hospitals in the area were overcrowded.
"We fear the deaths are in the hundreds," Muheeb Qaddour, a doctor, said by phone from the town of Atmeh, referring to the entire rebel-held area, as reported by Al-Arab media. Raed Salah, head of the White Helmets, the emergency organisation in opposition areas, said entire neighbourhoods collapsed in some areas, as reported by the same media outlet. On the Turkish side, the area involved is also home to those millions of Syrian refugees displaced by the civil war.
Turkey and Syria have already been quick to call for international assistance. In this regard, US President Joe Biden ordered the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and other federal government partners to assess response options in the areas most affected by the earthquake on the Turkish-Syrian border, as National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan indicated in a statement. For their part, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Italy have announced that they are sending medical supplies to help those affected.
Turkey is a country that suffers a great deal from earthquakes, as it sits on fault lines that are prone to earthquakes and is frequently hit by them.
For its part, the Syrian government has launched a "national emergency plan" in the aftermath of the quake to deal with the consequences of an earthquake that has left hundreds dead on Syrian soil. Russia, an ally of the Syrian government in the country's civil war, has already rushed to offer help and condolences. "I would like to express my sincere condolences for the tragic consequences of the earthquake in the northern regions of Syria," the official statement issued by the Kremlin announced.
Other countries such as Germany and Spain also announced assistance. Germany will send aid to the areas affected by the powerful earthquake in southern Turkey and neighbouring Syria, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirmed. "We are following the news of the earthquake in the border region between Turkey and Syria with great shock. The death toll is rising steadily. We mourn with the families and tremble for those buried. Germany will of course send aid," Scholz said on the social networking site Twitter. For its part, Spain has activated the sending of aid to Turkey and Syria after the earthquake. The Spanish government has activated the sending of urgent aid to Turkey and Syria to participate in the search and rescue of victims after the earthquake, as the President of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez, announced in a message on social networks, in which he expressed his solidarity with Turkey and Syria "in the face of one of the biggest earthquakes in their history".
The European Union (EU) has also shown its "solidarity" and its willingness to "help", as confirmed by political leaders such as Charles Michel and Josep Borrell.