A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake early Monday killed more than 1,500 people in Turkey and Syria and set off a search for survivors amid the rubble of fallen buildings.
The pre-dawn earthquake with an epicenter near Gaziantep, close to the Turkey-Syria border, was followed by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake about 100 kilometers north in the early afternoon.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference that Turkey had at least 912 deaths, with about 5,400 people injured. He said at least 2,800 buildings had collapsed.
“Because the debris removal efforts are continuing in many buildings in the earthquake zone, we do not know how high the number of dead and injured will rise,” Erdogan said.
Syrian health officials said at least 371 people were killed in the government-held areas, while rescue workers said at least 221 others died in rebel-controlled areas.
The quake destroyed the historic Gaziantep Castle and many other historic buildings in the area.
In the Turkish city of Mersin, resident Nurhan Kiral told VOA’s Turkish service that the earthquake lasted about a minute.
“We woke up with the tremor and got out of the bed. Rubble fell from the chimney. Rubble fell from the empty space between the buildings. It was terrifying,” Kiral said.
The Syrian American Medical Society said its hospitals in Syria were “overwhelmed with patients filling the hallways.”
“Many hospitals are full, but some critical facilities, including Al Dana Hospital had to evacuate patients after sustaining severe damage from the earthquake,” the group said in a statement. “Likewise, the Idleb Maternity Hospital was forced to transfer all newborns to a nearby hospital.”
Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
In 1999, 17,000 people were killed when a 7.4-magnitude earthquake — the worst to hit Turkey in decades — struck near Duzce, in the northwest of the country.
In October 2022, a magnitude-7.0 quake hit the Aegean Sea, killing 116 people and wounding more than 1,000. All but two of the victims were in Izmir, Turkey.