By Brian Dakss, Haley Ott, Alex Sundby, Tucker Reals
A massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southeast Turkey on Monday morning, crumbling homes, killing more than 3,800 people and leaving devastation across a wide swath of the country and into northern Syria. The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed the magnitude of the pre-dawn quake and said a second temblor, registering magnitude 7.5, struck just hours after the first one and not far away.
In Turkey, 2,379 people were killed and 14,483 were injured, Vice President Fuat Otkay said. In the government-held areas of neighboring Syria, which is still being rocked by violence from a decadelong civil war, the Health Ministry said 711 people were killed. Civilian rescue agencies that operate in Syria’s rebel-held northwest said over 740 people were killed there, with hundreds more injured.
Frantic search efforts were still underway in both countries, with rescuers digging through the rubble of collapsed buildings to find any survivors and remove the bodies of the dead.
The first powerful quake struck before dawn on a rainy and snowy night. It was felt as far away as Cairo, Cyprus, Lebanon and even in Greenland and Denmark.
Many governments immediately offered assistance, including the United States, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Russia and Ukraine.
“We thought it was the apocalypse”
Multistory apartment buildings full of residents were among the over 5,600 structures reduced to rubble in Turkey.
“That was the first time we have ever experienced anything like that,” said Melisa Salman, a 23-year-old reporter in the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras.
“We thought it was the apocalypse.”
In the southeastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa, rescuers were working into the night to try and pull survivors from the wreckage of a seven-story building that had collapsed.
“There is a family I know under the rubble,” said 20-year-old Syrian student Omer El Cuneyd.
“Until 11:00 a.m. or noon, my friend was still answering the phone. But she no longer answers. She is down there.”
Despite temperatures falling below zero, frightened residents in the city were preparing to spend the night on the streets, huddling around fires for warmth.
Nearby, Mustafa Koyuncu was sitting packed inside his stationary car with his wife and their five children, scared to move.
“We are waiting here because we can’t go home,” the 55-year-old told AFP. “Everyone is afraid.”