Kabul: A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake has hit Turkey and Syria, killing over 1,600 people and trapping many others.
The quake struck at 04:17 am local time (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 17.9 kilometers (11 miles) and was followed by a 6.7-magnitude aftershock 15 minutes later, according to the US Geological Survey.
According to the head of Turkey’s disaster and emergencies management agency (AFAD) Yunus Sezer, the country’s death toll following the earthquake has risen to 1,014, with some 2,824 buildings destroyed.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier put the death toll at 912 with over 5,000 others injured.
He described it as the country’s largest disaster since 1939, adding that 2,818 buildings collapsed as a result.
The Ankara government has requested international aid amid the widespread devastation caused by the quake.
Turkish Red Cross organization urged the nation to make blood donations.
The quake leveled buildings across major cities in southern Turkey, including Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, and caught most people while they were still asleep.
“I have never felt anything like it in the 40 years I’ve lived,” Erdem, a resident of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the quake’s epicenter, told Reuters. “We were shaken at least three times very strongly, like a baby in a crib.”
In Syria, the country’s official media as well as rescue teams working across the nation put the death toll at nearly 600.
The official SANA news agency, quoting the country’s health ministry, said the quake had killed at least 371 people and left at least another 1,089 injured, including the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartus.
Reports said the Syrian border city of Harem in Idlib province was completely ruined by the quake.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad held an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the necessary measures, according to his office.
Raed Ahmed, who heads Syria’s National Earthquake Center, told Syrian media that this was “historically, the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the center.”
The tremors were also felt in Lebanon and Cyprus.
People in the Lebanese cities of Beirut and Tripoli ran into the street and took to their cars to get away from their buildings in case they collapsed, Reuters cited witnesses as saying.
Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. In 1999, more than 17,000 people were killed in the worst earthquake to hit the country in decades.