What We Know About the Earthquake in Turkey and Syria

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria in early February killed tens of thousands of people, flattened city blocks and sent the region, already grappling with a refugee crisis and over a decade of war, into a monumental recovery effort.

The toll

As of Feb. 10, the death toll in Syria and Turkey combined had surpassed 22,000. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that over 19,000 people had died in his country; in Syria, the death toll neared 3,400, according to Syria’s Health Ministry.

Thousands of buildings were destroyed or rendered unstable, leaving staggering numbers of people without shelter in rain, snow and temperatures that often dip below freezing. Millions of people are in need of aid, according to relief agencies; in Syria alone, the United Nations said the earthquake had affected 10.9 million people.

In the bitter cold, rescue workers have pulled thousands of survivors from the rubble, but experts say that the chances of rescuing more decline dramatically a few days after a quake.

The situation for survivors in both Syria and Turkey is dire, with people reluctant to return to their homes and using bonfires of wreckage to stay warm, huddling in cars and suffering frequent power outages and shortages of fuel. They also face shortages of food and medical supplies.

A family sits next to a bonfire at the playground near a collapsed building in Antakya, Turkey.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

The aid

Turkey has imposed a three-month state of emergency in 10 provinces, and the national emergency agency has dispatched more than 92,000 tents, 98,000 Turkish and foreign workers and 5,000 vehicles, including excavators, cranes and tow trucks. Dozens of countries have sent teams and supplies, and in some places the local authorities have contributed to rescue and relief efforts.

Deadly Quake in Turkey and Syria

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake on Feb. 6, with its epicenter in Gaziantep, Turkey, has become one of the deadliest natural disasters of the century.

  • A Devastating Event: The quake, one of the deadliest since 2000, rippled through neighboring countries; an area along the Syrian-Turkish border was hit particularly hard.
  • From the Scene: Thousands of people have been killed, and dozens of cities have been gutted. Here is how witnesses described the disaster.
  • A Desperate Search: When buildings fell in Antakya, Turkey, families poured in from all over to help. Videos capture the dig for survivors.
  • Syrian Refugees: Millions of people fled the war in Syria for the safety of neighboring Turkey. Now, those killed in the quake are being returned home.

The quake zone in Turkey stretches across more than 200 miles, from the Mediterranean in the south across mountains and to the east-central highlands and into northwestern Syria. Snow-covered mountain passes, buckled highways and buildings that collapsed over roads have all delayed the arrival of rescue teams and aid.

Getting help to Syria has been complicated by the country’s long civil war, the division of territory in its northwest, and the acrimonious relations between President Bashar al-Assad and many Western nations.

The Syrian border

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the only U.N.-approved crossing for transporting international aid into northwestern Syria was, for a time, not functioning because of damage in the area, according to U.N. officials.

But aid convoys soon started crossing with food, clothes, blankets and other supplies — received by exhausted and frustrated rescuers and doctors who say it is still not nearly enough, especially in a region where many people were displaced by war and struggling to survive before the earthquake.

Much of the international aid to Syria from the United Nations and other agencies flows through the capital, Damascus, allowing the government of President Bashar al-Assad to limit what goes to opposition-held areas. U.N. agencies must get permission to then deliver some of the aid across front lines, to opposition-held areas, requests that are often denied.

An injured child awaits treatment at the emergency ward of the Bab al-Hawa hospital, in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria’s Idlib province, on the day of the earthquake.Credit…Aaref Watad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

U.N. officials have said they are negotiating with Syria’s government to make more deliveries, and the European Union has said it would work with the United Nations to deliver aid as well.

The Syrian government has blamed U.S. sanctions for deepening the humanitarian disaster the country has suffered since the earthquake. Those sanctions do not target humanitarian aid, and the State Department has rejected calls to lift them, saying that aid efforts were not impeded by the policy and that Mr. al-Assad’s government should open more border crossings.

The earthquake

The 7.8-magnitude temblor, striking in the early hours of Feb. 6, has now become Turkey’s deadliest earthquake since 1939, when more than 30,000 people were killed, and among the deadliest worldwide in decades.

A powerful aftershock of magnitude 7.5 followed the earthquake, and experts warn that more could follow — posing potential risks to the structural integrity of unstable structures in the earthquake zone.

Turkey’s two main fault zones, the East Anatolian and the North Anatolian, make it one of the most seismically active regions in the world, and more than 70 quakes of magnitude 6.5 or higher have been recorded in the region since 1900.

The epicenter of the earthquake was near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, where around half a million Syrian refugees were living, and much of the city was left in ruins. Much of Antakya, the capital of Turkey’s Hatay Province — known as Antioch to the people of ancient Greece and Rome — is destroyed, with whole neighborhoods in ruins, including the oldest part of the city. Rebuilding cities, where possible, will take years, at least a decade, experts say.

Smoke billowing in Antakya, Turkey, two days after the earthquake.Credit…Emily Garthwaite for The New York Times

Reporting was contributed by Vivian Yee, Ben Hubbard, Cora Engelbrecht, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Gulsin Harman, Safak Timur, Jin Yu Young, Raja Abdulrahim, Natasha Frost, Mike Ives, Hwaida Saad, Henry Fountain and Alan Yuhas.

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