No fewer than 1,800 people have been confirmed dead after the most powerful earthquake in nearly a century struck Turkey and Syria.
The 7.8-magnitude quake which occurred early morning of Monday, February 6, 2023, followed hours later by a slightly smaller one, wiped out entire sections of major Turkish cities in a region filled with millions who have fled the civil war in Syria and other conflicts.
Rescuers used heavy equipment and their bare hands to peel back rubble in search of survivors, who they could in some cases hear begging for help under the rubble.
“Since I live in an earthquake zone, I am used to being shaken,” said Melisa Salman, a reporter in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras.
“But that was the first time we have ever experienced anything like that,” the 23-year-old told AFP.
“We thought it was the apocalypse.”
The head of Syria’s National Earthquake Centre, Raed Ahmed, called it “the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the centre”.
At least 783 people died in rebel and government-controlled parts of Syria, state media and medical sources said.
Another 1,014 people died in Turkey, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose handling of one of the biggest disasters of his two decades in power could prove consequential to his re-election chances in polls due in May.
The initial quake was followed by more than 50 aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude tremor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue work on Monday afternoon.
Shocked survivors in Turkey rushed out into the snow-covered streets in their pyjamas, watching rescuers dig through the debris of damaged homes with their hands.
“Seven members of my family are under the debris,” Muhittin Orakci, a stunned survivor in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, told AFP.
“My sister and her three children are there. And also her husband, her father-in-law and her mother-in-law.”
The rescue was being hampered by a winter blizzard that covered major roads in ice and snow. Officials said the quake made three major airports in the area inoperable, further complicating deliveries of vital aid.