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Earthquakes kill over 3,500 people in Turkey, Syria

February 6, 2023

The confirmed death toll continues to rise and rescue operations are underway in Turkey and Syria following a huge earthquake. Turkey declared a week's national mourning.

People and rescue teams try to reach trapped residents inside collapsed buildings in Diyarbakir, Turkey
Rescue teams in Turkey and Syria are trying to reach people trapped beneath debris and rubbleImage: IHA agency via AP/picture alliance

  • Death toll rises to 2,379 in Turkey, and more than 1,400 in Syria
  • Rescue workers continue to search for victims in rubble
  • Turkish President Erdogan declares a week's national mourning
  • World powers rush to offer Turkey, Syria aid over quake
  • Turkey requests help from NATO allies
  • A 7.8 magnitude quake struck near Gaziantep early Monday, followed by a new 7.5 tremor after midday

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EU is helping Turkey to cope with the aftermath of earthquakes

Turkey activated the EU civil protection mechanism, a structure designed to deal with manmade and natural disasters, Balazs Ujvari, the spokesperson for humanitarian aid and crisis management at the European Commission, told DW.

Firstly, the EU dispatched almost 20 rescue teams coming from 17 European countries for Turkey.

"They are on their way to Turkey. In fact, some of the teams have already arrived," Ujvari said. 

As a second step, Ujvari said, the EU is looking into the possibility of mobilizing emergency medical teams, which is also part of Turkey's request for help.

How is the EU helping after Turkey, Syria earthquakes? EU spokesman Balazs Ujvari speaks to DW

"Some of such offers already have been made by EU member states. For example, there is a Spanish team ready to go," he said, adding that in the coming hours and days more and more European personnel would be arriving in Turkey.

The situation in Syria, however, is different, as it has not activated the EU civil protection mechanism, Ujvari said. "We would only be able to send such teams if we received a formal request from the Syrian authorities," he added.

According to the spokesperson, the European Union can operate in Syria through humanitarian operations.

Western countries have limited access to Syria. Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, has a military presence in the Middle Eastern nation.

Turkish and Syrian authorities revise casualty figures

Turkey's emergency and disaster management agency says the death toll from the quakes has risen to 2,379, with 14,483 injured.

In Syria, authorities have reported 711 deaths in government-controlled areas. 

The White Helmets organization in rebel-held Syria said at least 700 people had died.

Search and rescue operations continue after the two major tremors and multiple aftershocks across a broad region in southern Turkey and northern Syria. All the responsible authorities have warned they are likely to find more victims. 

Historic sites in Aleppo, Syria damaged

Some historical buildings were destroyed as a result of the quake in the provinces of Aleppo, Hama, and Tartus, the Syrian Cultural Ministry said.

The most notable damage reported was that which hit the historic Aleppo Citadel, among the world's oldest and largest castles. 

Two pictures side by side, the one on the left showing the Ayyubid mosque minaret tower, part of the Aleppo citadel, in July 2016, and the one on the right showing the damage it sustained in the February 6, 2023 earthquake. Severe damage to the very top of the structure can be seen, as can some cracks in the stone walls.
Syrian authorities published images showing the additional damage sustained to the Ayyubid mosque minaret within the Aleppo citadel in Monday's quake Image: AFP

The ministry said it sustained "little to medium" damage, including the collapse of parts of its Ottoman mill, and the destruction of its entrances. The dome of the minaret of the Ayyubid mosque inside the citadel also sustained damage.

Technicians were inspecting the UNESCO-listed Aleppo Old City, the ministry said.

Aleppo's ancient citadel is damaged following a deadly earthquake that shook Syria on February 6, 2023.
Aleppo's citadel is part of the Aleppo Old City that is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage CenterImage: AFP

Elsewhere in Hama, the ministry reported the collapse of some historic buildings, as well as parts of the minaret of Imam Ismail Mosque.

Meanwhile in Tartus, parts of the Marqab castle, a medieval fortress near the coast that was a major stronghold for a Christian order of knights during the Crusades, collapsed due to the quake.

Greece offers aid amid diplomatic standoff

The quake in Turkey and a rapid offer of assistance from Greece on Monday prompted the first direct contact between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in months. 

"I just spoke to President [Erdogan]," Mitsotakis wrote on Twitter on Monday. "On behalf of the Greek people, I extended my deepest condolences for the devastating loss of life and reiterated our readiness to provide all further assistance necessary."

Mitsotakis' office said that Erdogan had thanked the Greek prime minister. 

Erdogan had declared 10 months ago that he would sever ties with the Greek leader amid a longstanding dispute over territorial rights in the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean.

But on Monday morning Greece was among the first countries to dispatch rescue workers and offer further support as Turkey requested it. 

The two NATO members share an exposure to earthquakes, sometimes both suffering from the same tremors near their borders. 

They have a past history of cooperation on quake relief which in turn has played a role at times in improving their often-frayed ties. 

Erdogan declares 7-day period of national mourning

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that the country will observe seven days of national mourning in response to the fatal earthquake. 

"A national mourning period has been declared for seven days. Our flag will be hoisted at half-mast until sunset on Sunday, February 12, 2023, in all our national and foreign representative offices," Erdogan said on Twitter. 

Idlib residents hope for international aid

On Idlib's streets, residents spoke to DW about the horrors they witnessed. One described how he spent hours searching for his friend's family under debris.

"We kept on searching for them until 6 in the morning. We found his wife and two of his children dead. And this is what people are going through."

Many called for international support, saying that though immense, the White Helmets' effort was not enough.

"I hope that humanitarian organizations can just help us remove the debris. Just equipment and medical help, nothing more," one said.

Another resident described the moments of the quake, saying: "Horrifying moments that we experienced at 4 in the morning. We have never witnessed such an earthquake. Many buildings collapsed. My family and I survived and the neighbors did too, but five people died here. The civil defense [the White Helmets] is putting in all its effort. This seems to me like it was the Day of Judgment."

This aerial view shows residents helped by bulldozers, searching for victims and survivors in the rubble of collapsed buildings, following an earthquake in the town of Sarmada in the countryside of the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, early on February 6, 2023.
The town of Sarmada in Idlib province was among those hit severelyImage: MUHAMMAD HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images

UN appeals for international support

The UN General Assembly observed a minute's silence in tribute to the victims on Monday. 

It also appealed to other countries to provide assistance to a region already scarred by conflict with only limited access for humanitarian aid. 

"Our teams are on the ground assessing the needs and providing assistance," Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. "We count on the international community to help the thousands of families hit by this disaster, many of whom were already in dire need of humanitarian aid in areas where access is a challenge."

DW rounds up the international responses and pledges of support so far in this story

DW correspondent: Access and cold weather both concerns

Dorian Jones, DW's correspondent in Istanbul, said that a "major humanitarian crisis" was unfolding in Turkey. 

"The country is reeling from this massive earthquake and this second earthquake that struck the region a few hours ago," Jones said.

He said that thousands of people were feared trapped across a large area spanning 10 major cities. Rescue work was treacherous for first responders, he said, also because of the risk of aftershocks.

 "This is extremely dangerous work, because they can't use any heavy lifting equipment most of the time. It’s then simply digging their way into these piles of rubble, trying to find people buried, possibly, deep inside these collapsed buildings that were once people's homes," Jones said. 

Jones said that "roads have been destroyed, and one airport at least has been put out of action," making it difficult to get aid to the worst-hit areas. 

"This is a large area. We're talking about 10 major cities in Turkey that have been affected by this earthquake. And on top of that, you’ve got these ferocious, atrocious weather conditions. Winter really only hit this region only a few days before the earthquakes struck: you’ve got heavy snow in some parts, in other places freezing rain, which is adding to fears of hypothermia," Jones said.  

People scared to go home in Syria: experts

Ahmed Bayram, a communications and media adviser on the Middle East at the Norwegian Refugee Council, said people in the Syrian city of Aleppo are "refusing to go back home because they think the roof is going to fall on top of them."

Poor infrastructure and structural damage linked to Syria's long-running civil war is likely to exacerbate damages caused and risks in the area

Bayram said he learnt about the information after speaking with a friend on the ground in Aleppo. Bayram added that people were looking for their relatives and children, and that the weather was cold in Aleppo and other places across Syria.  

Syrian rescue teams search for victims and survivors at the rubble a collapsed building in the city of Aleppo following a deadly earthquake on February 6, 2023.
Already scarred by war, damage to Aleppo in Syria was immense after the quake around dawnImage: LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images

Johan Mooij, the director of World Vision Syria Response, told DW: 

"It's the middle of the winter, and in that sense, the earthquake could not have come at a worse time. It's been raining for a couple of weeks now. We've had snow recently. It is very cold. And many of the Syrian people live in tents or temporary shelters."

Ghanaian football star Christian Atsu reportedly among the missing in Turkey

English Premier League club Newcastle United said they were "praying for some positive news" over the fate of its former player Christian Atsu.

The Ghana international winger plays for Turkish side Hatayspor and is reportedly among those trapped under the rubble in Kahramanmaras.

He spent several years with Newcastle and Chelsea before signing with Hatayspor last summer.

The club's sporting director Taner Savut, was also reportedly missing

Domestic football matches in Turkey have been called off following Monday's quake.

Turkey deploys nearly 10,000 to help with rescue operations

Turkey's disaster agency, AFAD, said nearly 9,698 search and rescue personnel had been deployed to help search for survivors.

AFAD said the death toll from the 7.8-magnitude quake that struck the country's southern region early on Monday had risen to 1,498 people, with at least another 7,634 people injured. 

It said a least 2,834 buildings were destroyed in the quake.

On top of other emergency supplies, the agency was also handing out thousands of tents, blankets, and beds to help the survivors cope with the frigid weather.

Syria's Aleppo 'not trained' for rescue operations, eyewitness says

Syria's government-controlled Aleppo, which was badly hit by the devastating Monday earthquake, is not equipped to deal with the aftermath, with most helpers working without proper training, an anonymous eyewitness told DW.

The female 30-year-old resident of Aleppo, who did not wish to give her name for security reasons, said most of those helping with the rescue operations were ordinary civilians.

"Most of them are not trained for this. They help with their bare hands because there is hardly any recovery equipment. This is dangerous, they could be buried under the rubble themselves at any time."

The woman said the city was in urgent need of blood donation, amid a continuous rise in the number of those injured. 

"I'm in total shock, I feel all the time that the earth keeps shaking underneath me, but it can also just be that it's my body that's shaking."

Though urged to evacuate their homes, the woman said the people of Aleppo had not heeded the calls.

"Because they don't know where to go, and they don't have money to stay in hotels further away from here."

UK sending 76 search-and-rescue specialists

A rescue team from the United Kingdom consisting of 76 search and rescue specialists, four search dogs and rescue equipment will arrive in Turkey this evening.

"We stand ready to provide further support as needed," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.

The foreign ministry added that the UK-aid-funded White Helmets were mounting a "significant search and rescue response" in northwest Syria and have "mobilized all their resources to respond to emerging needs."

Idlib lacks technical equipment to rescue earthquake survivors, local journalist tells DW

Syria's opposition-held Idlib province lacks the technical equipment to rescue survivors of the earthquake, a local journalist has told DW.

Omar Albam spoke from Sarmada, a small town some 30 kilometers north of Idlib city and on the border with Turkey. He said the town has been hit hard, nearly leveled to the ground by the quake.

"The earth shook twice. The aftershock felt much longer," Albam said, describing the first moments after the quake in Idlib. "People in Idlib streamed out of their homes, they were in panic."

He said the collapsed buildings were already in bad shape due to the country's civil war, ongoing for some 12 years, and particularly "the Russian airstrikes."

"But newer buildings also collapsed, all over Idlib province," the journalist said.

He said that entire families remained buried under the rubble. 

The voluntary Civil Defense Forces were unable to pull people from under the rubble. Also known as the White Helmets, the group has been known for years for their ability to rescue people from under rubble as a result of airstrikes bringing down buildings. 

Albam said the earthquake also struck connection networks, with some areas completely cut off from communication.

"There are currently no reliable estimates of how many people have died as a result of the earthquake. There is chaos and it is still unclear at this time."

The White Helmets had said that the earthquake killed at least 380 people in the opposition-held northwest Syria. 

Quake death toll in Turkey and Syria rises

The death toll has continued to rise rapidly following a strong earthquake that rocked southern Turkey and northern Syria in the early hours of Monday morning.

The death toll has climbed to 1,121 in Turkey, emergency services said. 

Earlier, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said over 5,300 people had been injured. Erdogan said that the priority at this stage was the ongoing search and rescue operation.

In Syria, the health ministry said about 430 people had been killed and more than 1,000 injured. 

The White Helmets rescue group meanwhile said at least 380 were killed and more than a 100 injured in rebel-held areas.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck near the city of Gaziantep, a key industrial hub near the border with Syria. Tremors could also be felt as far as Lebanon, Cyprus, and Egypt.

The USGS meanwhile has reported a second earthquake measuring 7.5 in magnitude in southeast Turkey at 13:24 local time (10:24 UTC).

Rescue efforts underway

Rescue workers have been deployed in Turkey and Syria to pull survivors from the rubble. Residents have also been helping search for survivors.

Heavy snowfall was hampering rescue efforts in some parts with roads covered in ice and snow.

"I convey my best wishes to all our citizens who were affected by the earthquake," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter.

"We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage."

While Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) was coordinating search and rescue operations, international agencies were also deploying resources to help.

EU sending search and rescue teams

The EU's Crisis Commissioner Janez Lenarcic confirmed that rescue teams were traveling to Turkey to help local agencies. 

"Ten Urban Search and Rescue teams have been quickly mobilized from Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania to support the first responders on the ground," EU commissioners Josep Borrell and Lenarcic said in a statement.

Turkey's military has established an air corridor to enable search and rescue teams to reach disaster zones as quickly as possible.

"We mobilized our planes to send medical teams, search and rescue teams and their vehicles to the earthquake zone," a statement citing Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.

The World Health Organization said one of the primary concerns was trauma care of those caught up in the quake.

"National authorities will be focusing on search and rescue at the moment," a WHO spokesperson told Reuters news agency in a statement. "Then we will expect an increased need for trauma care to treat the injured and to support the entire health system in affected areas."

Buildings destroyed in Turkey, Syria

According to early reports a large number of buildings have been destroyed in provinces in southern Turkey.

Turkey's president said that more than 2,800 buildings had collapsed in a situation update.

Syria's state media also reported that some buildings had collapsed in Aleppo and the central city of Hama. Tremors were also felt in Damascus.

The damaged Yeni Mosque in Malatya, Turkey
Civilians in parts of southern Turkey were forced out of their homes into the snowImage: Volkan Kasik/AA/picture alliance

The head of Syria's National Earthquake Center, Raed Ahmed, told local media that this was "historically, the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the center."

The White Helmets rescue organization said buildings also collapsed in the rebel-held areas of northwestern Syria, adding that the situation was "disastrous."

The region is one of the world's most active earthquake zones. 

Thousands of people were killed and many more displaced when a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the western city of Izmit in 1999.

In 2011, more than 500 people were killed by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in the eastern city of Van.

Rubble on a van in Adana
The earthquake caused widespread damage across Turkey's southern provincesImage: Eren Bozkurt/AA/picture alliance

Turkey makes formal request for help

Turkey's government has declared a "level 4 alarm" that calls for international assistance.

Emergency medical teams along with equipment and search and rescue units have been listed in a request published by NATO.

Also listed are "extreme weather-proof fully equipped field hospitals."

NATO's response to the earthquakes is being coordinated by the disaster response coordination center.

EU in 'full solidarity' with Turkey — Von der Leyen

"We stand in full solidarity with the people of Türkiye and Syria after the deadly earthquake that hit this morning," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.

French President Emmanuel Macron said his country also stood ready to provide emergency aid to Turkey and Syria and said that "thoughts are with the bereaved families."

Greece has been among the countries offering assistance to Ankara. "Greece will help immediately," said Greek head of government, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, despite tensions between his country and Turkey.

Germany ready to help

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed his dismay at the news of the earthquake and said: "We mourn with the victims and fear for those buried. Germany will of course send help."

Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said: "My thoughts are with the relatives of the victims of this terrible earthquake," and went on to say "Together with our partners, we will quickly get help on the way." 

US ready to provide 'all needed assistance'

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said he had been in communication with Turkish officials to offer assistance.

Sullivan said he had been in communication with Turkish officials to relay that Washington stood ready to help. "We will continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with [Turkey],'' Sullivan said.

US President Joe Biden wrote on Twitter that he was "deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation caused by the earthquake in [Turkey] and Syria" and that he had asked his team to provide Turkey "any and all needed assistance." 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed "full solidarity with our ally Türkiye" and said that he was in touch with President Erdogan. Stoltenberg said that allies were mobilizing support.

Ukraine, Israel and India pledge support

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sent a message of support and also offered assistance.

"I am shocked to learn of deaths and injuries of hundreds of people as a result of the earthquake in Turkey," Zelenskyy wrote in a tweet. "At this time, we stand by the friendly Turkish people and are ready to provide the necessary assistance,'' Zelenskyy said. 

Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also said his country was prepared to provide any assistance if needed.

India said it would send rescue and medical teams to Turkey, with the decision being confirmed by the country's foreign ministry.

msh, lo,kb,zc/rt (AFP, Reuters, AP)