ANKARA, Turkiye, February 12, 2023 (ENS) – At least 29,600 people have died and thousands more were injured in 10 provinces after two major earthquakes shook southern Turkiye and surrounding countries on Monday, an official from Turkiye’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, AFAD, said, using the country’s preferred official name.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday declared a state of emergency for three months across the 10 affected provinces.
Delivering remarks Saturday after inspecting the search and rescue efforts in Urfa, a city in southeastern Turkey that is the capital of Sanliurfa Province, President Erdogan said, “Unfortunately, the 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes that occurred on Monday have caused grave destruction and casualties in our 10 provinces. While our 21,848 citizens have lost their lives in these earthquakes according to the latest data [as of Saturday, February 11], our 80,104 citizens have been rescued wounded.”
The death toll is expected to rise even further as everyone who can do so combs the wreckage for survivors.
The bitter cold, and frequent aftershocks such as the magnitude 5.7 wave that rumbled across the region makes the search for survivors perilous. Many roads are not passible, and electricity is out in communities across the earthquake-stricken region.
Stressing that the construction of new buildings in the quake-hit areas would be completed within one year, President Erdoğan assured the crowd at Urfa, “We will achieve this by acting in unity and solidarity once again, as has been the case during every period of our history.”
In Quake-Prone Turkiye, the Earth Shook Again
Most people were asleep early Monday morning local time, when a strong 7.8 earthquake, centered near the northern border of Syria, shocked the province of Kahramanmaras and affected cities in nine other Turkish provinces: Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Diyarbakir, Adana, Adiyaman, Malatya, Osmaniye, Hatay, and Kilis.
Then, just 10 hours later, a new 7.6 magnitude quake struck southern Turkiye, centered in the Elbistan district of Kahramanmaras at 13.24 pm local time.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported the first quake as centered about 33 kilometers (20 miles) from Gaziantep, a major city and provincial capital. The epicenter was 18 kilometers (11 miles) deep, and a strong 6.7 aftershock rumbled about 10 minutes later.
AFAD officials say that hundreds of aftershocks have occurred, and at least 6,000 buildings have collapsed.
The earthquakes came as the Middle East was in the midst of a snowstorm that continued through February 9.
Forced from their homes in icy weather, residents sought shelter in shopping malls, stadiums, community centers and mosques.
The quakes and aftershocks were felt in nearby countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel.
Syria Shakes Too
The quake killed at least 2,200 people and injured hundreds more in government-controlled parts of Syria, including the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartus, the official news agency SANA reported, quoting the health ministry. Syria’s state media report collapsed buildings in Aleppo and Hama. In Damascus, buildings shook and many people went down to the streets in fear for their lives.
The White Helmets aid group informed reporters that some 400 people have died in rebel-held areas of Syria, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz..
AFAD has sent 9,698 search and rescue personnel to the affected regions of Turkiye, the agency said. No tsunami threat affected Turkiye’s Eastern Mediterranean coasts.
President Erdogan called it the “biggest disaster” since the 1939 Erzincan earthquake, 84 years ago.
“Our state has taken action with all its institutions starting from the moment of the earthquake, and the governorates have immediately mobilized all their means in their own provinces,” President Erdogan said at the AFAD office in Ankara, the Turkish capital city, where he has been coordinating the rescue and relief work.
“Today is a day for 85 million to be together as one heart,” the president said.
But the quake has affected an irreplaceable historical building. Images show parts of the Gaziantep Castle crumbling after the earthquake. The castle was first constructed during the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. “Some of the bastions in the east, south and southeast parts of the historical Gaziantep Castle in the central Şahinbey district were destroyed by the earthquake, the debris was scattered on the road,” Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu reported.
Erdogan said that 10 more governors have been assigned to work with the governors in the 10 provinces hit by the earthquake, and that AFAD, the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay), and the Turkish Armed Forces have been stationed in the area.
Vice President Fuat Oktay said at a news conference that Erdogan has been managing the event since the moment of the first quake.
Oktay said that Hatay Airport is now closed to flights, and the airports in Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep are also closed to civil flights. “102 mobile base stations have been sent to the earthquake zones so far,” Oktay said.
The vice president said all schools in the 10 affected provinces are closed for the next week and schools in the provinces closest to the quake epicenter will be closed for two weeks..
“As of today, we are taking a two-week break from education in Kahramanmaras, Hatay, Adiyaman, and Malatya provinces,” said National Education Minister Mahmut Ozer.
Youth and Sports Minister Mehmet Kasapoglu said all national sports organizations to be held in Turkiye have been suspended until further notice.
After the great earthquake, Dr. Kerem Kınık, the president of the Turkish Red Crescent, Turk Kızılay, set out for Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras, warning everyone not to enter the damaged houses for fear of injury due to collapse.
Türk Kızılay directed its 75 catering vehicles and five mobile kitchen trucks to provide nutrition services to the victims in the earthquake-affected provinces. It continues to distribute hot meals, ready-to-eat packages, soup, hot/cold beverages and water. To protect people from the cold, Türk Kızılay staff continues the shipment of blankets, tents and beds. More than 240 professional Turk Kızılay employees and hundreds of volunteers support the work in the region.
45 Countries Offer Immediate Aid
President Erdogan said today, “Talks for international aid have started as well. In addition to NATO and the European Union, 45 more countries’ offers for help have been received. I wish Allah’s mercy upon our citizens who lost their lives in this big disaster, and a speedy recovery to the injured.”
Turkiye has issued a Level Four alarm, which includes a call for international aid, AFAD said in the statement. International assistance was called for the search and rescue through the Emergency Response Coordination Centre, AFAD said.
In an immediate response, the European Union has mobilized search and rescue teams for Turkiye following its request to activate the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
Urban Search and Rescue teams were mobilized from Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, France, Greece, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania to support the first responders on the ground. Italy, Spain and Slovakia have offered their rescue teams to Turkiye as well.
The EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre is in direct contact with the authorities in Turkiye to coordinate further support if needed.
The EU’s Copernicus satellite system has been activated to provide emergency mapping services.
The EU is also ready to support those affected in Syria, which has also reported casualties, through its humanitarian assistance programmes.
“The United States is profoundly concerned by the reports of today’s destructive earthquake in Turkiye and Syria. We stand ready to provide any and all needed assistance,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said.
President Joe Biden said, “Jill and I were deeply saddened by the news of the devastating earthquakes that have thus far claimed thousands of lives in Turkiye and Syria,” the president said.
“Our teams are deploying quickly to begin to support Turkish search and rescue efforts and address the needs of those injured and displaced by the earthquake,” Biden said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he has ordered medical aid and rescue teams to be sent to Turkey “at the request of the Turkish government.”
Netanyahu also offered medical help to Syria, a country with which Israel is technically at war, following “a request” made through the Russian government. Syria denies this.
Turkiye Establishes ‘Air Aid Corridor’
After the earthquakes, an “air aid corridor” was created by the Turkish Armed Forces to dispatch search and rescue teams and vehicles to the region in ambulance planes and Turkish military planes.
National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said, “We mobilized our planes to send medical teams, search and rescue teams and their vehicles to the earthquake zone.”
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted, “A sufficient number of teams from 81 provinces are on duty in disaster areas and continue their search and rescue and health services. Our air and land ambulances are also in service in the region. We are currently carrying out the coordination from Hatay, one of the provinces affected by the earthquake disaster.”
Condolences have arrived in Ankara from around the world.
Featured image: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses earthquake survivors in the city of Urfa in southern Turkiye, February 11, 2023 (Photo courtesy Office of President Erdogan)