Two devastating major earthquakes, first 7.8 and second 7.4 magnitude, hit Turkey and north-west Syria early Monday morning, February 6.
Recorded as “one of the most powerful earthquakes in at least a century”, the epicenter of the earthquake is the town of Pazarcık in Kahramanmaraş – a city located on the crossroad of southern, eastern and southeastern Turkey.
Gaziantep, 150 miles from the border with Syria 50 miles from the epicentre of the earthquake in Kahramanmaraş, Diyarbakır, 300 km from the epicenter, Adana, Adıyaman, Hatay, Malatya, Osmaniye, Şanlıurfa, Kilis are among the most affected areas and neighbouring cities.
Lebanon, Greece, Israel, and the island of Cyprus were the cities that felt tremors, and many afterschocks have been reported in the region and around neighbouring cities.
While Kahramanmaraş is turning into a city of complete ruin, at the time of this writing the death toll has reached 7,108, with 11,342 destroyed buildings, of which 5,775 have been confirmed so far, according to the latest reports from The Guardian. Death rolls have reached 2,470 in Syria, as The Guardian reported.
On 7 February, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared state of emergency for three months in the 10 affected provinces.
Gaziantep Castle’s walls were destroyed after the earhquake on February 6, 2023. Image © DHA Photo via Daily Sabah
Many historic sites were severely damaged
While the death toll climbed to 10,000, many historical sites in the region were significantly damaged. CNN reported that the Gaziantep Castle, a significant 2,000-year-old structure and UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been damaged. The castle collapsed during the first 7.8 magnitude earthquake.
Built on a hilltop, the structure was mainly used as an observation point by the Hittite Empire, the structure was later turned into a main castle by the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Under Byzantine Emperor Justinian I between AD 527 and 565, the castle was expanded and renovated.
Built on a round-shaped geometry, the height of the castle reaches up 1,200 metres. The castle’s walls were made of stone and it has 12 bastions.
The Gaziantep Castle recently served as Gaziantep Defense and Heroism Panoramic Museum.
The Şirvani Mosque, which was built in the 17th century in Gaziantep, was partially collapsed, as Artforum reported. The dome and eastern wall of the historic Şirvani Mosque are said to have partially collapsed.
In addition, according to Artforum, the Cathedral of the Annunciation, located in the southern Turkish city of Iskenderun, was almost completely destroyed. In Malatya, the New Mosque (known as Yeni Camii), which was built in the 19th century, was collapsed.
UNESCO reported that Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape, the World Heritage site and an important centre of the Roman, Sassanid, Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman periods, has also collapsed.
The cultural organization says that other heritage-listed sites, such as Göbekli Tepe, Nemrut Dağ and Tell of Arslantepe – which are not far from the epicenter, may also be affected.
UNESCO also stated that in Syria, the situation in the Ancient city of Aleppo, which is on the List of World Heritage, could be in danger. The organization reported that the UNESCO is currently working with its partners on an initial survey of damages on heritage sites.
The cleanup of the wreckage of a collapsed building, Diyarbakır, Turkey, 6 February 2023. Image courtesy of Voice of America (Public Domain)/Wikipedia.
“One of the biggest disasters in recent years”
The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), Turkey’s largest professional body for architects and engineers, has issued a statement (in Turkish) and called for solidarity in response to this tragic disaster.
The professional body described the earthquake as “one of the biggest disasters in recent years”.
The statement, which was released in Turkish, especially, draws attention to the poor conditions of the structures and invites all its members to support the search and rescue efforts in the area.
“In the earthquake of 7.7 magnitude, which took place on February 6, 2023 and the epicenter was determined as the Pazarcık district of Kahramanmaraş, a great destruction was experienced in a very wide region, especially in the provinces of Kahramanmaraş, Hatay, Gaziantep, Adıyaman, Şanlıurfa, Malatya, Osmaniye and Diyarbakır,” reads their statement.
“We wish patience to the relatives of those who lost their lives in the earthquake, which is one of the biggest disasters in recent years in terms of both its prevalence and consequences, healing to the injured and our condolences to our entire country.”
“We hope that our citizens waiting for help under the rubble will be rescued as soon as possible.”
“The magnitude of the earthquake, the extent of the disaster area and the condition of the structures further aggravated the consequences of the earthquake.”
“Adverse weather conditions in the region and the limitations of transportation make the living conditions of the earthquake victims even worse,” the statement reads.
“Our initiatives continue to work in cooperation and coordination with official institutions in order to assist search and rescue and damage assessment activities in the region and to support aid activities. We invite all our members to support these efforts,” TMMOB continued in their statement.
As the situation is getting worse, on Monday, February 6, NATO, the United States and the European Union, including 45 countries, have begun to send their search and rescue teams with equipments to Turkey, according to TIME.
“[It may be seen] eight fold increases on the initial numbers”
World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that those numbers could rise to eight times as rescuers reach more victims in the rubbles.
Catherine Smallwood, the WHO’s European senior emergency officer, told AFP on Monday night that “there’s continued potential of further collapses to happen so we do often see in the order of eight fold increases on the initial numbers,” according to the report by The Guardian.
“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,” Smallwood added.
The statement was made when the death roll was 2,600, which means, the total disaster may reach around 20,800 – if the estimation is true.
“The initial focus is on saving lives and caring for wounds,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a briefing statement on February 7.
“We are especially concerned about areas where we do not yet have information. Damage mapping is ongoing, to understand where we need to focus our attention.”
“We are mobilizing emergency supplies, and we have activated WHO’s network of emergency medical teams to provide essential health care for the injured and most vulnerable.”
“WHO is dispatching three charter flights to both countries with medical supplies, including major surgical trauma kits, from our logistics hub in Dubai,” Ghebreyesus added.
Reportedly, in previous years, the Mayor of Hatay conveyed the urban renewal and gentrification plans for Hatay to the relevant ministry, but no response was received.
Top image: A collapsed building in Diyarbakır, 300 km from the epicenter on February 6. Image courtesy of Voice of America (Public Domain)/Wikipedia.