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Huge earthquake kills more than 2,200 in Turkey and Syria, bad weather worsens plight

DIYARBAKIR/ANKARA: On Monday, a big earthquake killed over 2,200 people and hurt tens of thousands more in Turkey and northwest Syria. It flattened apartment buildings and caused more damage to Syrian cities that had already been ruined by years of war.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which happened before dawn in the middle of a cold winter, was the worst to hit Turkey this century. In the early afternoon, there was another big quake with a magnitude of 7.7.

It wasn’t clear right away how much damage the second earthquake had caused. Like the first, it was felt all over the area and put rescuers in danger as they tried to pull people out of the rubble.

“We were shaken like a cradle. We had nine people at home. “My two sons are still in the rubble, and I’m waiting for them,” said a woman in an ambulance near the wreckage of the seven-story building where she lived in Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey.

The disaster agency said that 1,498 people had died in Turkey. The government of Damascus and the United Nations both say that at least 716 people have died in Syria.

Poor internet connections and damaged roads between some of the worst-affected cities in the south of Turkey, where millions of people live, made it hard to figure out how bad the damage was and what to do about it.

Temperatures were expected to drop to near freezing in some areas overnight, making things worse for people who were stuck under rubble or had nowhere to live. On Sunday and Monday, the country was hit by snowstorms. On Monday, it was raining.

It is already the deadliest earthquake in Turkey since 1999, when a similar-sized quake near Istanbul killed more than 17,000 people in the densely populated eastern Marmara Sea area.

President Tayyip Erdogan, who is getting ready for a tough election in May, called it a historic disaster and the worst earthquake to hit Turkey since 1939. He also said that authorities were doing everything they could.

“Everyone is putting their hearts and souls into the efforts, even though it’s winter, it’s cold, and the earthquake happened at night,” he said.

After the second quake, the Turkish state TV station TRT showed a building in the southern province of Adana that had fallen down. It wasn’t clear right away if it had been cleared out.

Syria has been in a civil war for more than 11 years, which has already caused a lot of damage. The health ministry said that 461 people had died and more than 1,326 had been hurt. A UN spokesman said that 255 people had died in the rebel-held northwest of Syria.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said that the earthquake would make things worse for the millions of Syrians who were already suffering because of the civil war.

In the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, Reuters reporters saw dozens of rescue workers searching through a pile of rubble, which was all that was left of a big building, and carrying away pieces of the wreckage as they looked for survivors. They would sometimes raise their hands and say, “Be quiet!” as they listened for signs of life.

Men took a girl wrapped in blankets out of a city building that had fallen down. Drone footage from Izmir showed rescue workers standing on top of a hill of rubble where a building used to be and trying to lift large pieces of stone.

On Twitter, there was video of two buildings in Aleppo, Syria, falling down one after the other, sending clouds of dust into the street.

Two people who live in the war-torn city said that buildings fell in the hours after the earthquake, which was also felt in Cyprus and Lebanon.

“Like the end of the world”
In Aleppo province, where rebels control the town of Jandaris, there is a pile of concrete, steel rods, and clothes where a multi-story building used to be.

“Twelve families lived under there. None of them came out. Not one,” a thin young man with wide-open eyes and a bandaged hand said.

Raed Fares of the Syrian White Helmets, a rescue service in rebel-held territory known for pulling people from the ruins of buildings destroyed by air strikes, said that they were in “a race against time to save the lives of those under the rubble.”

Abdul Salam al Mahmoud, a Syrian from the town of Atareb, said it felt “like the end of the world.”

A spokesperson for the UN Office for coordinating humanitarian affairs in northwestern Syria said that the number of people hurt was likely to go up.

The group’s spokesperson, Madevi Sun-Suon, said, “It just adds to the pain.”

A Reuters reporter was in the city of Hama, which is controlled by the Syrian government. He saw a child who seemed to be dead being carried out of the ruins of a building.

Rescue teams were looking for people in heavy rain and sleet, which was shown on Syrian state TV. His office said that President Bashar al-Assad called a meeting of his cabinet to look at the damage and talk about what to do next.

In a video released by Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, a rescue worker in the city of Malatya crawled into a collapsed building to look for a person who might still be alive under the rubble (AFAD).

“What colour do you have on?” Do you have pink on? The rescue worker could be heard saying, “Please take care of yourself for now, I can’t see anything else.”

CNNTurk showed footage of how badly damaged the historic Gaziantep Castle was.

Helping hands
Erdogan said that 45 countries had offered to help find and save people.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser for the White House, said that the United States was “deeply concerned” about the earthquake and ready to help.

The U.S. Geological Survey said that the earthquake happened 17.9 km below the surface. It said that there had been a number of earthquakes, with one measuring 6.7.

There are earthquake fault lines in the area.

Mohammad Kashani, an Associate Professor of Structural and Earthquake Engineering at the University of Southampton, said, “The combination of a big size and a shallow depth made this earthquake very dangerous.”