Historic Tragedy: Death toll rises to almost 5000 in Turkey earthquake as heavy rain hampers rescue operations

Rescuers are battling heavy rain and snow as they race against the clock to find survivors of a devastating earthquake in south-east Turkey.

More than 4,300 people were killed and 15,000 injured in Turkey and over the border in Syria when the quake struck in the early hours of Monday. The World Health Organization has warned the toll may rise dramatically as rescuers find more victims.

As day breaks rescue teams are stepping up their search for survivors. Many people in the disaster zone have been too scared to go back into buildings. The 7.8 magnitude tremor struck at 04:17 local time on Monday at a depth of 17.9km (11 miles) near the city of Gaziantep, according to the US Geological Survey.

Seismologists say it was one of the largest ever recorded in Turkey, where at least 2,921 people are now known to have died. Survivors say it took two minutes for the shaking to stop. A later tremor had a magnitude of 7.5, and its epicentre was in the Elbistan district of Kahramanmaras province.

As dawn broke on Tuesday, traffic was at a standstill on the main highway to the Turkish city of Maras, close to the epicentre of the quake and believed to be one of the worst-affected areas. Cars occasionally crawled forward, the wet road illuminated by glowing red brake lights.

Few rescuers have made it to this part of southern Turkey yet and everyone is trying to get there as fast as they can to assess the damage and give vital help. As aftershocks continue, rescuers in some areas have been digging through rubble with their bare hands looking for survivors.

In the Turkish city of Osmaniye, near the epicentre, pouring rain hampered rescuers as they searched through the rubble looking for any survivors. The city was without power as the cold and rain set in.

Countries around the world are sending support to help the rescue efforts, including specialist teams, sniffer dogs and equipment. But the earthquake has caused significant damage to three airports across Turkey, also creating challenges for aid deliveries.

At least 1,400 people are now known to have been killed in Syria where millions of refugees live in camps on the Turkish border.

People look at a collapsed building near a bonfire, following an earthquake in Iskenderun, Turkey February 6, 2023

Following an international appeal for help, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 45 countries had offered support. UN Secretary General António Guterres called for an international response, saying that many of the families hit by the disaster were “already in dire need of humanitarian aid in areas where access is a challenge”.

The European Union is sending search and rescue teams to Turkey, while rescuers from the Netherlands and Romania are already on their way. The UK has said it will send 76 specialists, equipment and rescue dogs.

France, Germany, Israel, and the US have also pledged to help. Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered help to both Turkey and Syria, as has Iran.

Turkey lies in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. In 1999 a quake killed more than 17,000 in the north-west while in 1939, 33,000 people died in the eastern province of Erzincan. This earthquake was powerful enough to be felt as far away as Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel.

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