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Death toll could increase eight-fold in Turkey quake, says WHO

The death toll from a strong earthquake in south-eastern Turkey, near Syria’s border, could rise eight-fold, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.

Turkey earthquake
In Diyarbakir, north-east of Gaziantep, a search is now under way for people trapped in damaged buildings

The toll, which currently stands at more than 2,700 people, has increased rapidly since the first earthquake struck early in the morning on Monday, February 5, 2023.

About 12 hours later, a second powerful tremor hit further north.

Rescuers have been combing through mountains of rubble in freezing and snowy conditions to find survivors.

Countries around the world are sending support to help the rescue efforts, including specialist teams, sniffer dogs and equipment.

The US Geological Survey said the 7.8 magnitude tremor struck at 04:17 local time (01:17 GMT) at a depth of 17.9km (11 miles) near the city of Gaziantep.

Seismologists said the first quake was one of the largest ever recorded in Turkey. Survivors said it took two minutes for the shaking to stop.

The second quake had a magnitude of 7.5, and its epicentre was in the Elbistan district of Kahramanmaras province.

An official from Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority said it was independent of the earlier tremor and not an aftershock.

The death toll in Turkey has exceeded 1,760, while some 1,000 are confirmed to have died in Syria.

The WHO has warned that those numbers are likely to increase as much as eight times, as rescuers find more victims in the rubble.

“We always see the same thing with earthquakes, unfortunately, which is that the initial reports of the numbers of people who have died or who have been injured will increase quite significantly in the week that follows,” the WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, told AFP.

Ms Smallwood added that the snowy conditions will leave many people without shelter, adding to the dangers.

Turkey lies in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

In 1999 a deadly quake killed more than 17,000 in the north-west. The country’s worst earthquake disaster was in 1939 when 33,000 people died in Turkey’s eastern Erzincan province.

One Kahramanmaras resident, Melisa Salman, said living in an earthquake zone meant she was used to “being shaken”, but Monday’s tremor was “the first time we have ever experienced anything like that”.

“We thought it was the apocalypse,” she said.

Many thousands of people have been injured – with at least 9,700 people hurt in Turkey and 2,000 in Syria. Those numbers have also been steadily rising.

Many of the victims are in war-torn northern Syria, where millions of refugees live in camps on both sides of the Syria-Turkey border. There have been dozens of fatalities reported in rebel-held areas.

Thousands of buildings have collapsed, and several videos show the moment they fell, as onlookers ran for cover. Many buildings that were four or five storeys high are now flattened, roads have been destroyed and there are huge mountains of rubble as far as the eye can see.

Courtesy: BBC

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