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Thousands dead in Turkey-Syria earthquake


Rescuers search the rubble of a collapsed building at Baglar distirct in Diyarbakir

A huge earthquake has killed more than 2600 people across a swathe of Turkey and northwest Syria, with freezing winter weather adding to the plight of the many 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.


The worst tremor to strike Turkey this century, it came before sunrise in harsh weather and was followed in the early afternoon by another large quake of magnitude 7.7.


Northern Syrian resident of Atareb, Abdul Salam al-Mahmoud told AAP:

"It was like the apocalypse.
"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 for them."


She was nursing a broken arm and had injuries to her face.


The earthquake was the biggest quake recorded worldwide by the US Geological survey since a tremor in the remote South Atlantic in August 2021.


In Turkey, the death toll stood at 1651, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said, and 11,119 people were recorded as injured. 


At least 968 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 Turkey'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 was falling on Monday after snowstorms swept the country at the weekend.

It is already the highest death toll from an earthquake in Turkey 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. He claimed it was the worst earthquake to hit Turkey 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."

On Monday morning, President Erdogan declared 7 days of mourning:

"Due to the earthquakes that took place in our country on February 6, 2023, a national mourning period was declared for seven days. Our flag will be hoisted at half-mast until sunset on Sunday, February 12, 2023, in all our country and foreign representations."


Turkish state broadcaster TRT showed a building collapse in the southern province of Adana after the second quake. 


In Syria, already wrecked by more than 11 years of war, the health ministry said 538 people had been killed and more than 1326 injured. 


In the Syrian rebel-held northwest, emergency workers said 390 people had died.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said the earthquake would only add to the suffering of millions of Syrians already enduring a humanitarian crisis due to the conflict.


In the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, Reuters journalists saw dozens of rescue workers searching through a mound of debris, all that was left of a big building, and hauling off bits of wreckage as they looked for survivors. 


Occasionally they raised their hands and called for quiet, listening for sounds of life.

Men carried a girl wrapped in blankets from a collapsed building in the city. 

In Izmir, drone footage showed rescue workers stood atop a hill of rubble where a building once stood, working to lift slabs of masonry.


Footage circulated on Twitter showed two neighbouring buildings collapsing one after the other in Syria's Aleppo, filling the street with billowing dust.


Two residents of the city, which has been heavily damaged in the war, said the buildings had fallen in the hours after the quake, which was also felt in Cyprus and Lebanon.


Erdogan said 45 countries had offered to help the search and rescue efforts in Turkey.


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