Hundreds die in Turkey, Syria earthquake

[Ed. Note: Thousands have reportedly died in the tragedy since the publishing of this article].

One of the first nations to offer aid was Israel, where two massive earthquakes were also felt.

By Erin Viner

A 7.8 overnight earthquake in southern Turkey, the worst to hit the country this century, killed at least 1,300 people and wounded 7,634 others, and at least 550 across the border in northwestern Syria. The region straddles seismic fault lines.

The epicenter was the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Death rates are likely to rise, warned the World Health Organization (WHO).

This was Turkey’s most severe quake since 1999, when one of similar magnitude devastated Izmit and the heavily populated eastern Marmara Sea region near Istanbul, killing more than 17,000.

According to an official from Ankara’s Disaster and Emergencies Management Agency (AFAD), some 2,834 buildings have been destroyed. 120 aftershocks were recorded.

The early dawn quake was followed just hours later by another large temblor of magnitude 7.7.

Many Israelis living in the north of the country also reported feeling the earthquakes, as did residents in Cyprus and Lebanon.

Syria, already grappling with a years-long humanitarian crisis, major economic woes and a cholera outbreak, was in a “perfect storm” in the wake of the deadly earthquake, said Rick Brennan, WHO’s Regional Emergency Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Hundreds of casualties have been reported in the provinces of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia, as well as in the rebel-held northwest. A member of the White Helmets rescue organization said in a video statement on Twitter that “tens of buildings have collapsed in the city of Salqin,” referring to another town about 5 km (3 miles) from the Turkish border.

Syrian state television showed footage of rescue teams searching for survivors in heavy rain and sleet. Among those reportedly killed was the sister of Prime Minister Hussein Arnous, Nassub.

“On behalf of all citizens of Israel, I send condolences to the citizens of Türkiye at this difficult time for them following the earthquake that struck our region,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning, announcing, “at the request of the Turkish government, I have instructed all authorities to make immediate preparations to provide medical, and search and rescue assistance.”

Israel and Turkey recently restored full diplomatic ties after years of tension.

“The State of Israel always stands ready to assist in every way possible. Our hearts are with the grieving families and the Turkish people at this painful moment,” said Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has ordered his ministry to “lead a rapid aid program for Turkey to deal with the severe disaster.” Similarly,  Defense Minister Yoav Gallant confirmed Israel’s preparation “to deploy search and rescue teams and aid.”

Additionally, the IDF is currently preparing to send out a humanitarian aid delegation to Turkey following directives issued by the Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister. “The IDF Home Front Command is leading the IDF’s preparations regarding the event in cooperation with all IDF branches and directorates and the Ministry of Defense,” said the Israeli military.

Israel’s Magen David Adom national emergency medical and disaster service, in cooperation with the Israeli Red Cross, contacted colleagues in Turkey to offer “humanitarian and medical assistance.” The national volunteer EMS organization, United Hatzalah of Israel, is also organizing a relief mission to Turkey “consisting of doctors, paramedics, EMTs, members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, and members of the Search and Rescue Units, with medical supplies and humanitarian aid in order to provide assistance to the thousands of people in need in Turkey.”

In an unexpected but welcomed development, Jerusalem confirmed that it is also preparing to aid Damascus in the wake of the tragedy, following a request Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly conveyed through a third party state official. The two neighboring countries are in a formal state of war, and the earthquake relief marks rare cooperation between the two sides.