More powerful tremors hit Turkey – as WHO warns death toll could rise to more than 20,000


More powerful tremors have hit Turkey through the night, after thousands of people were killed and many more injured in two powerful earthquakes.

A 5.4 magnitude tremor struck the eastern side of the country at 7.10am (UK time) this morning, according to the US Geological Study. Just half an hour earlier, a 4.5 magnitude aftershock was recorded.

There have been at least 14 large quakes in the region since midnight.

Trapped residents unreachable after earthquake amid freezing weather – latest updates

At least 5,000 people have died across both Turkey and Syria – with the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying fatalities could reach as high as 20,000 in the coming days.

The first 7.8 magnitude earthquake happened before dawn on Monday, when many people would have been sleeping.

And while rescuers have spent the night scouring rubble, bitterly cold weather could reduce the time they have to find survivors.

More than 7,800 people in Turkey have been rescued across 10 provinces so far – and crews from around the world have been making their way to the epicentre to help.

In Syria, the earthquake and subsequent tremors further weakened the foundations of buildings that have borne the brunt of shelling and airstrikes during a decade of unrest.

Several fault lines run through Turkey and Syria
Several fault lines run through Turkey and Syria
Muhammet Ruzgar, 5, is carried out by rescuers from the site of a damaged building, following an earthquake in Hatay, Turkey
Muhammet Ruzgar, 5, is carried out by rescuers from the site of a damaged building

The latest figures suggest more than 13,000 in Turkey have been injured – and in the city of Iskenderun, there was an enormous pile of debris where an intensive care unit once stood.

“We have a patient who was taken into surgery but we don’t know what happened,” said Tulin, a woman in her 30s who was stood outside the hospital and wiping tears from her eyes.

This region is unable to cope with a disaster of this magnitude

Hundreds of rescue workers are still arriving in Turkey’s earthquake zone in the early hours.

Adana airport is awash with personnel – many of them volunteers – who have travelled from all over the country to try to help in what is fast turning into Turkey’s worst natural disaster in nearly a century.

Many have relatives or friends they’re still trying to reach in the multiple towns and villages affected.

I was with an Istanbul-based doctor this morning as she frantically tried to telephone colleagues in Hatay, believed to be one of the worst-affected areas and near the Syrian border.

“We can’t reach them,” she said. “We are really concerned.”

At least two hospitals are thought to have crumbled in Hatay as the earthquakes ripped through this area.

Worried people have been glued to television and radio reports and watched in horror as the number of fatalities rose with every hour.

Some 45 nations have already offered help. Turkey is going to need every last one of them.

Reaching those affected over the border in Syria is going to be exceedingly complicated.

Many living along the Turkish border have already been displaced multiple times already.

In a region so badly hit by war and poverty for more than a decade, this area is uniquely vulnerable and unable to cope with a disaster of this magnitude.

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Port in Turkey burns after quake

Adelheid Marschang, WHO Senior Emergency Officer, said Turkey had a strong capacity to respond to the crisis but that the main unmet needs in the immediate and mid-term would be across the border in Syria, already grappling with a years-long humanitarian crisis due to the civil war and a cholera outbreak.

“This is a crisis on top of multiple crises in the affected region,” she said at the organization’s board meeting in Geneva.

“All over Syria, the needs are the highest after nearly 12 years of protracted, complex crisis, while humanitarian funding continues to decline.”

She said that some 23 million people, including 1.4 million children, were likely to be exposed in both countries following the earthquake and its aftershocks.

Desperate scenes

Tens of thousands have been left homeless across Turkey and Syria – and spent last night in the cold.

About 20 miles away from the epicentre of the earthquake in Gaziantep, people took refuge in shopping centres, mosques, stadiums and community centres.

In a rebel-held enclave of Syria, four million people were already displaced before the powerful tremors struck – and many live in buildings wrecked by military bombardments.

A mound of concrete and steel roads lay where a multi-storey building once stood in Aleppo, with a thin young man expressing fears that 12 families could be trapped.

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Flattened streets at earthquake’s epicentre

The Syrian White Helmets, a rescue service in rebel-held territory, said they were in a “race against time” to save the lives of all those under rubble.

Imran Bahur’s apartment building in the Turkish city of Adana was also destroyed. She said her 18-month-old grandson was on the 12th floor, and begged for help in rescuing him.

Search crews working in Diyarbakir, another Turkish city, occasionally raised their hands and called for quiet – listening for signs of life.

Read more:
Before and after images show quake’s devastation
Syrian hospital overwhelmed by injuries
Terrifying video shows block of flats collapse in 10 seconds

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War-torn Syria struggles after quake

Syria asks for help

Syria’s UN ambassador Bassam Sabbagh has requested help from the United Nations – receiving assurance that member states will do everything possible in this “very difficult situation”.

He went on to stress that the government is ready to help and coordinate aid deliveries “to all Syrians in all territories of Syria”.

But as well as harsh winter weather, damage to roads and fuel shortages have hampered the UN’s response to the earthquake there.

“The infrastructure is damaged, the roads that we used to use for humanitarian work are damaged, we have to be creative in how to get to the people… but we are working hard,” UN resident coordinator El-Mostafa Benlamlih told the Reuters news agency.

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Why has this quake been so deadly?

Erdogan declares seven days of national mourning

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken to his US counterpart Joe Biden.

The White House said Mr Biden underscored “the readiness of the United States to provide any and all needed assistance” to Turkey – a NATO ally.

Smoke rises from burning containers at the port in the earthquake-stricken town of Iskenderun, Turkey
Smoke rises from burning containers at the port in the earthquake-stricken town of Iskenderun, Turkey

Two, 79-person urban search and rescue teams have been deployed by Washington – and discussions are ongoing about other forms of relief, including health services.

Rescue workers from the UK, Czech Republic and Germany have also been making their way to the epicentre.

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