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Devastating earthquakes rock Turkey, Syria and continue during rescue efforts; death toll surpasses 4,300

Most powerful recorded quake since 1939 felt all the way to Israel and Egypt

People search through rubble following an earthquake in Adana, Turkey February 6, 2023. Ihlas News Agency (IHA) via REUTERS

This article was last updated at 6:01 p.m.

Thousands were feared dead after powerful earthquakes rocked southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday leaving victims homeless during a winter storm and a burgeoning humanitarian crisis.

The first – measuring 7.8-magnitude on the Richter scale – was devastating, but a second was nearly as strong and came during rescue efforts. That was followed just an hour later by a third which registered 5.8 on the Richter scale.

As of 6 p.m. Israel time, the death toll stood at more than 2,000 – a figure which is expected to rise dramatically as rescue workers continue to dig through the debris.

The first quake struck just after 4 a.m., when residents were most likely sleeping. Footage showed buildings flattened into a pile of rubble.

Nearly 2,000 buildings are believed to have been destroyed in just Turkey, according to one report and many continued to crumble during rescue efforts. Even Gaziantep Castle, built more than 2,200 years ago, collapsed.

Natural gas pipelines have ruptured, which will likely disrupt the energy supply in southeast Turkey, further contributing to a massive humanitarian crisis during winter months.

The natural disaster compounds a lingering crisis for Syrians in the region, as well where more than 4 million people were already displaced due to the nation's civil war.

“Every minute, we lose a life. We are now racing with time," said a representative of White Helmets, or the Syria Civil Defense – a volunteer organization that operates in opposition-controlled Syria and in Turkey. "We need heavy equipment, we need heavy machinery dedicated for rescue missions. We need rescue teams. We need fuel. We have been using up backup fuel for the past two months.”

“Tens of thousands of civilians are homeless,” he continued. “The medical situation is abysmal. Tens of thousands of buildings are now cracked. There’s a snowstorm. There’s predictions of flooding in the area. The humanitarian situation is disastrous, with every meaning of the word. It’s not just the rescue – it’s the rescue and the humanitarian situation.”

Many residents already lived in tents or abandoned and bombed-out buildings.

In a statement, the International Rescue Committee aid organization said the impact of the earthquake was devastating for areas already hosting high numbers of displaced and vulnerable families. Overstretched by a recent cholera outbreak and grappling with a snap of freezing cold weather, the area is experiencing a crisis within multiple crises, according to the IRC.

The first quake early Monday morning was considered the most powerful earthquake to hit Turkey in at least 25 years. According to the United States Geological Survey, in 1939 an earthquake of the same magnitude killed 30,000 people.

The area of the quake spread 14 miles (23 kilometers) and was felt throughout Turkey, and as far as Israel and Egypt.

Despite the wintry conditions, residents were advised to stay outdoors in both Turkey and Syria, as tremors and aftershocks rocked the region.

“I convey my best wishes to all our citizens who were affected by the earthquake that occurred in Kahramanmaraş and was felt in many parts of our country. All our relevant units are on alert under the coordination of AFAD,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wrote on social media. 

An Israeli rescue team is expected to be dispatched to the region, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"At the request of the Turkish government, I have instructed all authorities to make immediate preparations to provide medical, and search and rescue assistance," he said. "The foreign and defense ministers have already been in contact with their counterparts and we will – in the coming hours – agree on the dispatching of a delegation as soon as possible."

Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.

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