More than 4,300 people have died and rescuers are racing to pull survivors from beneath the rubble after a devastating earthquake ripped through Turkey and Syria, leaving destruction and debris on each side of the border.
One of the strongest earthquakes to hit the region in a century shook residents from their beds at around 4 a.m. on Monday, sending tremors as far away as Lebanon and Israel.
In Turkey, at least 2,921 people were killed and more than 15,800 others injured, according to Turkey’s head of disaster services, Yunus Sezer.
In neighboring Syria, at least 1,451 people have died. According to the Syrian state news agency SANA, 711 people have died across government-controlled areas, mostly in the regions of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia, and Tartus.
The “White Helmets” group, officially known as the Syria Civil Defense, reported 740 deaths in opposition-controlled areas. Much of northwestern Syria, which borders Turkey, is controlled by anti-government forces amid a bloody civil war that began in 2011.
The epicenter of the 7.8-magnitude quake was 23 kilometers (14.2 miles) east of Nurdagi, in Turkey’s Gaziantep province, at a depth of 24.1 kilometers (14.9 miles), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said.
A series of aftershocks have reverberated throughout the day. The largest, a major quake that measured 7.5 in magnitude, hit in Turkey about nine hours after the initial quake, according to the USGS. That aftershock hit around 95 kilometers (59 miles) north of the original.
Video from the scene in Turkey showed day breaking over rows of collapsed buildings, some with apartments exposed to the elements as people huddled in the freezing cold beside them, waiting for help.
The Syrian health ministry reported damage across the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Tartus, where Russia is leasing a naval facility.
AFP correspondents in northern Syria said terrified residents ran out of their homes after the ground shook.
Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo — Syria’s pre-war commercial hub — often collapsed due to the dilapidated infrastructure, which has suffered from lack of war-time oversight.
Officials cut off natural gas and power supplies across the region as a precaution, also closing schools for two weeks.
“The size of the aftershocks, which may continue for days although mostly decreasing in energy, brings a risk of collapse of structures already weakened by the earlier events,” David Rothery, an earthquake expert at the Open University in Britain.
“This makes search and rescue efforts dangerous.”
Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
The Turkish region of Duzce suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999, when more than 17,000 people died — including about 1,000 in Istanbul.
Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.