More than 2,600 people have been killed and thousands injured after a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake, followed by several strong aftershocks, hit southern Turkey and northern Syria early on Monday, authorities said.
The huge quake toppled buildings, triggering a frantic search for survivors.
The epicentre was near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, a major Turkish provincial capital of more than two million people.
A second earthquake of 7.5 magnitude hit central Turkey on Monday afternoon, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre and US Geological Survey.
The latest earthquake struck around 100km to the north of the first quake, and was followed 12 minutes later by a strong magnitude 6 aftershock.
In Turkey, the death toll stood at 1,651, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said, and 11,119 people were recorded as injured. Around 1,700 buildings have collapsed.
At least 968 people were killed in Syria, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue workers in the northwestern region controlled by insurgents.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 45 countries, including the UK, had offered support.
Turkey and Syria Earthquake | February 2023
The UK government sent search and rescue teams to Turkey following requests for help. At least 76 search and rescue specialists, four search dogs and rescue equipment are due to arrive in Turkey by 9pm local time.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said there were no reports of British fatalities, but acknowledged the relief effort was still at an early stage.
He told reporters at the Foreign Office: “With an earthquake of this magnitude we sadly have already seen many thousands of people die.
“We don’t know the full extent of the injuries or fatalities and sadly they are likely to grow over the coming days.
“At this stage we aren’t aware of any British fatalities but of course it’s far too early for us to say that won’t be the case.”
The Syrian health ministry said 371 people had been killed and some 1,042 injured there, most in the provinces of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia, where numerous buildings collapsed. The death toll was expected to rise further.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak offered his condolences to Turkey and pledged support from the UK.
He tweeted: “My thoughts are with the people of Türkiye and Syria this morning, particularly with those first responders working so valiantly to save those trapped by the earthquake. The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can.
“Millions of people across Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and Israel felt the earthquake.”
The first earthquake struck at 4.17 am local time at a depth of about 11 miles, the US Geological Survey said. Videos and pictures from across the region showed the destruction wrought.
One clip from the border town of Azaz, Syria, showed a rescuer desperately running through a field of debris with an injured child in his arms, while another showed the total collapse of a seven-storey building in Sanliurfa, Turkey.
Footage circulated on Twitter showed two neighbouring buildings collapsing one after the other in Syria’s Aleppo, filling the street with billowing dust. Two residents of the city, which has been heavily damaged in the war, said the buildings had fallen in the hours after the quake.
“We were shaken like a cradle. There were nine of us at home. Two sons of mine are still in the rubble, I’m waiting for them,” said a woman with a broken arm and injuries to her face, speaking in an ambulance near the wreckage of a seven-storey block where she had lived in Diyarbakir in Turkey.
Terrefying footage capturing the devastating aftermath of a building collapse in the city of Urfa, #Turkey, #Turquia as a result of the catastrophic earthquake that struck the region.
— Afshin Ismaeli (@Afshin_Ismaeli) February 6, 2023
In the Turkish city of Adana, one resident said three buildings near his home collapsed.
“I don’t have the strength anymore,” one survivor could be heard calling out from beneath the rubble, as rescue workers tried to reach him, said the resident, journalism student Muhammet Fatih Yavus.
Further east in Diyarbakir, cranes and rescue teams rushed people on stretchers out of a mountain of pancaked concrete floors that was once an apartment building.
On the Syrian side of the border, the quake smashed opposition-held regions that are packed with some four million people displaced from other parts of Syria by the country’s long civil war.
Many of them live in decrepit conditions with little health care, with Russian-backed Syrian forces surrounding the area and sometimes carrying out airstrikes.
Rescue workers said hospitals in the area were packed.
Raed Salah, the head of the White Helmets, the emergency organisation in opposition areas, said whole neighbourhoods were collapsed in some areas.
The quake, felt as far away as Cairo, was centered about 60 miles from the Syrian border, just north of the city of Gaziantep. The region has been shaped by more than a decade of war in Syria.
At least 20 aftershocks followed, some hours later during daylight, the strongest measuring 6.6, Turkish authorities said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that “search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched” to the areas hit by the quake.
“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage,” he wrote.
In Turkey, people trying to leave the quake-stricken regions caused traffic jams, hampering efforts of emergency teams trying to reach the affected areas. Authorities urged residents not to take to the roads. Mosques around the region were being opened up as a shelter for people unable to return to damaged homes amid temperatures that hovered around freezing.
In Diyarbakir, rescue teams called for silence as they tried to listen for survivors under the wreckage of an 11-story building. Rescue workers pulled out one man, carrying him on a stretcher through a dense crowd of hundreds of people anxiously watching the rescue efforts. A gray-haired woman wailed before being escorted away by a man, while a rescue worker wearing a white helmet tried to calm a crying girl, who was also being cuddled by two friends.
In northwest Syria, the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense described the situation in the rebel-held region as “disastrous” adding that entire buildings have collapsed and people are trapped under the rubble.
The civil defence urged people to evacuate buildings to gather in open areas. Emergency rooms were full of injured, said Amjad Rass, president of the Syrian American Medical Society.
The quake jolted residents in Lebanon from beds, shaking buildings for about 40 seconds. Many residents of Beirut left their homes and took to the streets or drove in their cars away from buildings.
The White House has issued a statement saying that US president Joe Biden has instructed the federal government to prepare for assistance.
National security advisor Jake Sullivan said: “The US is profoundly concerned by the reports of today’s destructive earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
“We stand ready to provide any and all needed assistance. President Biden has directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess US response options to help those most affected. We will continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with the government of Turkey.”
My thoughts are with the people of Türkiye and Syria this morning, particularly with those first responders working so valiantly to save those trapped by the earthquake.
The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can.
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) February 6, 2023
Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson offered his support to both Turkey and Syria.
He tweeted: “Saddened about the loss of lives in Turkey and Syria following the major earthquake. Our thoughts go to the victims and their loved ones. I have sent my deepest condolences to Tayyip Erdogan. As partner of Turkey and holder of the EU presidency, we stand ready to offer our support.”
British foreign secretary James Cleverly also said the UK stands ready to help, tweeting: “Tragic loss of life in the Turkey and Syria earthquake. Our condolences go to the families of those who died and our thoughts are with the survivors. The UK stands ready to provide assistance.”
Save the Children, a non-governmental organisation, said it is providing support for displaced people in the region.
Sasha Ekanayake, who serves as Türkiye Country Director for the charity, said: “This is one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the region in 100 years and made thousands homeless, while the region is experiencing freezing weather and snowstorms. Schools in the affected areas are now closed for a week.
“Our teams are moving quickly to check all our staff are safe, and to respond to the emergency, but it’s crucial that the international community acts now to provide support to the thousands of people in need.”
The earthquake came as the Middle East is experiencing a snowstorm that is expected to continue until Thursday.
Turkey sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes.
Some 18,000 were killed in powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkey in 1999.