(CNSNews.com) – Hundreds of people in Turkey and Syria have been killed after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck in southeastern Turkey early on Monday morning local time.
The toll is expected to rise significantly amid reports of collapsed buildings in an area heavily affected by the Syrian civil war.
The epicenter of the quake was near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, about 50 miles from the border with Syria, and its effects were felt across the region, reaching as far away as Cyprus and Israel.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported more than a dozen aftershocks in the region, including one powerful one recorded at 6.7 magnitude, 11 minutes after the original quake.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted that search and rescue teams had immediately been dispatched to the affected areas, and Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority put out a call for international assistance.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the U.S. government was “profoundly concerned” at reports of the devastating quake and was ready to provide whatever assistance was needed. President Biden has directed USAID and other agencies to assess response options, he said.
Millions of Syrian refugees live in southeastern Turkey. After Istanbul, the regions of Gaziantep and Sanliurfa – both near the epicenter – are home to the largest numbers of the more than 3.5 million registered Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The governor of the southern Turkish province of Malatya said that in that province alone, at least 50 people had been killed, hundreds injured, and more than 140 buildings had toppled. Scores of deaths were also reported in neighboring provinces, as well at least 100 in Syria.
Video clips posted on social media showed scenes of devastation, and reports of many people trapped beneath rubble of destroyed buildings, including hospitals.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates a 47 percent probability that the death toll in Turkey alone could reach up to 10,000, and notes that the population in the affected region, overall, “resides in structures that are extremely vulnerable to earthquake shaking, though some resistant structures exist.”
Across the border, northwestern Syria is home to large numbers of people internally displaced by the long civil war. The region is under control of Kurdish or other rebels, not the Assad regime.
The Syrian American Medical Society, which works in the area, said its hospitals were overwhelmed in the quake aftermath. Early indications were that about 47 people were dead and more than 200 injured, with both numbers expected to rise.
“Across our operational facilities, we’ve been receiving victims of the quake as they come into our hospitals while simultaneously working to guarantee the wellbeing of our over 1,700 staff in Syria, and 90 at the epicenter near Gaziantep, Turkey,” said the group’s president, Dr. Amjad Rass.
In 1999, Turkey suffered its most lethal earthquake in 60 years, when more than 18,000 people were killed in the 7.6-magnitude Izmit quake in the north. The deadliest quake since 1999 occurred near the eastern city of Van in 2011, when 604 deaths were reported in the 7.2-magnitude quake.
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