A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake has hit Turkey and Syria, killing over 1,600 people and trapping many others.
The quake struck at 04:17 am local time (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 17.9 kilometers (11 miles) and was followed by a 6.7-magnitude aftershock 15 minutes later, according to the US Geological Survey.
Turkey’s AFAD emergencies service center put the first quake’s magnitude at 7.4.
According to the head of Turkey’s disaster and emergencies management agency (AFAD) Yunus Sezer, the country’s death toll following the earthquake has risen to 1,014, with some 2,824 buildings destroyed.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier put the death toll at 912 with over 5,000 others injured.
He described it as the country’s largest disaster since 1939, adding that 2,818 buildings collapsed as a result.
The Ankara government has requested international aid amid the widespread devastation caused by the quake.
The president of the Turkish Red Crescent also urged the nation to make blood donations.
Kerem Kinik also said on Twitter the organization sending additional shipment of blood to the affected region.
The country’s vice president Fuat Oktay announced the suspension of schools in the 10 affected cities and provinces.
He also announced that flights to and from the airport in Hatay province have been suspended, while airports in Marash and Antep are also closed to civilian flights.
The quake leveled buildings across major cities in southern Turkey, including Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, and caught most people while they were still asleep.
“I have never felt anything like it in the 40 years I’ve lived,” Erdem, a resident of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the quake’s epicenter, told Reuters. “We were shaken at least three times very strongly, like a baby in a crib.”
The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, said it was concerned about areas in Turkey from which there had been no news following the overnight tremor.
“National authorities will be focusing on search and rescue at the moment,” a WHO spokesperson told Reuters in a statement, adding “Then we will expect an increased need for trauma care to treat the injured and to support the entire health system in affected areas.”
In Syria, the country’s official media as well as rescue teams working across the nation put the death toll at over 600.
The official SANA news agency, quoting the country’s health ministry, said the quake had killed at least 403 people and left at least another 1,284 injured, including the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartus.
Rescue teams said over 200 people were killed and at least another 419 injured in northwestern parts of the country, which are held by pro-Turkish militants.
Reports said the Syrian border city of Harem in Idlib province was completely ruined by the quake.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad held an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the necessary measures, according to his office.
Raed Ahmed, who heads Syria’s National Earthquake Center, told Syrian media that this was “historically, the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the center.”
The tremors were also felt in Lebanon and Cyprus.
People in the Lebanese cities of Beirut and Tripoli ran into the street and took to their cars to get away from their buildings in case they collapsed, Reuters cited witnesses as saying.
Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. In 1999, more than 17,000 people were killed in the worst earthquake to hit the country in decades.
Putin offers condolences, aid to Turkey, Syria after quake
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences and offered Russian aid to Turkey and Syria following the deadly earthquake, the Kremlin said.
“We share the sadness and the pain of those who lost their loved ones and we hope for a speedy recovery for all the injured, and are ready to provide the assistance needed to overcome the impact of this natural disaster,” Putin said in a message to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
In a separate message to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Putin asked him to “convey words of sincere sympathy and support” to the families of the victims and said Russia was “ready to provide required assistance.”
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu separately spoke with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar by telephone, offering condolences and support.
The Defense Ministry said in a statement that Shoigu “offered to provide all necessary assistance through the military department to his Turkish colleague in the aftermath of the earthquake, including medical assistance to the victims.”
EU mobilizes over 10 search and rescue teams to Turkey
The European Union says more than 10 search and rescue teams from the bloc have been mobilized in the wake of Turkey’s major earthquake.
“Urban Search and Rescue teams have been quickly mobilized from Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania to support the first responders on the ground,” the European Commission said in a statement.
Italy, Spain and Slovakia have offered their rescue teams to Turkey as well.