There was panic on the streets of Turkey’s Hatay as a strong earthquake struck the southern province during the early evening (around 20:00 local time) of February 20 followed by a moderate quake. The new tremors, so far known to have caused the deaths of three people, came almost exactly two weeks after twin earthquakes struck Hatay, 10 other Turkish provinces and northern Syria killing tens of thousands.
Muna Al Omar told Reuters she was in a tent in a park in central Antakya, Hatay’s capital city, when the strong quake, with a magnitude of 6.4, hit. "I thought the earth was going to split open under my feet," she said, crying as she held her seven-year-old son in her arms.
The second quake was measured at 5.8.
Initial newswire reports also referred to 213 people injured and people trapped under rubble, with many instances of already damaged buildings and other structures crumbling.
The two February 6 earthquakes were of devastating magnitudes, 7.8 and 7.5, respectively. On February 19, the country's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, AFAD, said that some 6,040 aftershocks, with 40 of a 5 to 6 magnitude and one at 6.6, have in the past two weeks hit the 11 provinces that form the quake disaster zone. For earthquakes, it should be noted that the Richter magnitude scale does not proportionally represent the strength of the earthquake in question. For instance, 7.00 magnitude is not one unit or 16% stronger than 6.00 magnitude, it is 10 times or 1,000% stronger.
The latest quakes were centred near Antakya and were felt in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon. The first quake struck at a depth of just two km (1.2 miles), according to the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said. The relatively shallow depth might have magnified its impact at ground level.
The death toll from the earthquakes of two weeks ago, with rescue efforts now almost entirely wound down, so far stood at 41,156 in Turkey, AFAD said on February 20. Around 6,000 victims are confirmed to have died in Syria. Soon after the quakes, one expert said he feared the eventual toll across Turkey and Syria could reach as high as 180,000. Both countries are yet to give estimates of how many people are missing.
Around 345,000 apartments in Turkey are known to have been destroyed by the disaster. Some 105,794 buildings checked by Turkey’s Environment and Urbanisation Ministry were either destroyed or so badly damaged as to require demolition, the ministry said on February 19. Of these, 20,662 had collapsed.
“At least 80% of the buildings must be demolished in Antakya,” Lutfu Savas, the mayor of Hatay province—which suffered around 21,000 deaths in the earthquakes of two weeks ago, more than half of the total number of the confirmed fatalities in Turkey—told broadcaster HaberTurk on February 19.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to face a backlash over decades of shoddy building standards that left so many buildings in Turkey vulnerable to the earthquake tremors.
Even some so-called “earthquake-proof” luxury housing complexes were toppled by the earthquakes. But there are examples in Turkey of towns built according to earthquake-resistance construction codes, which have withstood major tremors while settlements around them have collapsed.
Opposition politicians have complained of deference to Erdogan slowing the earthquake rescue.
Among February 6 earthquake survivors are around 356,000 pregnant women who urgently need access to health services, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA) has said. They comprise of 226,000 women in Turkey and 130,000 in Syria, around 38,800 of whom will deliver in the next month. Many are sheltering in camps or are exposed to freezing temperatures and are struggling to get food or clean water.
Deep anxieties in Istanbul—which experts have long said is highly vulnerable to the possibility of a massive earthquake—have been reignited among the city’s 16mn-strong population by the disaster.
Hours before the latest earthquake, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on a visit to Turkey that Washington would help "for as long as it takes" as rescue operations in the wake of the February 6 earthquakes and their aftershocks were reduced to just a handful of cases with some hope. The focus was turning to urgent shelter and reconstruction work.