(Reuters) – A major earthquake of magnitude 7.9 struck central Turkey and northwest Syria on Monday, killing scores of people and injuring hundreds as buildings collapsed, and triggering searches across the snowy region for survivors trapped in rubble.
The quake, which struck in the early darkness of a winter morning, was also felt in Cyprus and Lebanon.
“I have never felt anything like it in the 40 years I’ve lived,” said Erdem, a resident of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the quake’s epicentre, who declined to give his surname. “We were shaken at least three times very strongly, like a baby in a crib.”
Turkey’s disaster agency said 76 people had been killed, and 440 hurt, as authorities scrambled rescue teams and supply aircraft to the area around the city of Kahramanmaras, while declaring a “level 4 alarm” that calls for international assistance.
Syrian state media said a large number of buildings collapsed in the province of Aleppo, while a source in the Hama civil service said buildings had also collapsed there. “Paintings fell off the walls in the house,” said Samer, a resident of the capital, Damascus. “I woke up terrified. Now we’re all dressed and standing at the door.”
People in Damascus, and 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, witnesses said.
In Turkey’s Gaziantep, Erdem also said people had fled from their shaking homes and were too scared to return. “Everybody is sitting in their cars or trying to drive to open spaces away from buildings,” Erdem said by telephone. “I imagine not a single person in Gaziantep is in their homes now.”
The United States was “profoundly concerned” about the quake in Turkey and Syria and was monitoring events closely, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Twitter. “I have been in touch with Turkish officials to relay that we stand ready to provide any and all needed assistance,” he said.
FOCUS ON SEARCH AND RESCUE
The tremor lasted about a minute and shattered windows, according to a Reuters witness in Diyarbakir, 350 km (218 miles)to the east, where a security official said at least 17 buildings collapsed.
Authorities said 16 structures collapsed in Sanliurfa and 34 in Osmaniye.
Broadcasters TRT and Haberturk showed footage of people picking through building wreckage, moving stretchers and seeking survivors in Kahramanmaras, where it was still dark.
“Our primary job is to carry out the search and rescue work and to do that all our teams are on alert,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters.
The German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) said the quake struck at a depth of 10 km (6 miles), while the EMSC monitoring service said it was assessing the risk of a tsunami.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported a series of further earthquakes following the initial tremor, which it put at a magnitude of 7.8. There was a quake measuring 6.7 in Gaziantep and another of 5.6 in the city’s Nurdag area.
Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) put the magnitude of the quake at 7.4 near Kahramanmaras and the larger city of Gaziantep, close to the Syrian border.
Tremors were also felt in the Turkish capital of Ankara, 460 km (286 miles) northwest of the epicentre, and in Cyprus, where police reported no damage.
The area is regularly hit by strong earthquakes.
“The earthquake struck in a region that we feared. There is serious widespread damage,” Kerem Kinik, the chief of the Turkish Red Crescent relief agency, told Haberturk, issuing an appeal for blood donations.