Turkey numb with shock as fears grow death toll from two giant earthquakes could climb past 20,000

Turkey numb with shock as fears grow death toll from two giant earthquakes could climb past 20,000
Disaster and an icy night to follow for survivors stranded in the open. / T24
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade February 7, 2023

The numbing death toll stood at more than 3,500 and the World Health Organisation (WHO) was warning it could rise eightfold—Turkey, struck by two giant earthquakes in freezing weather that offers no mercy to survivors cast out of their homes reduced to rubble, has since the early hours of February 6 been experiencing the worst humanitarian tragedy in the country’s recent history.

Millions of people in the country’s southeast are struggling to survive in subzero termperatures under heavy snow and rainfall. Huge numbers of people have little or no shelter as the aftershocks continue, making it impossible to find safe harbour in buildings. They have no access to food, drinking water, electricitynatural gasgasoline, fuel, medicine, they literally have almost nothing amid this appalling disaster. Television pictures showed shocked survivors standing in the snow in nothing but their pyjamas watching rescuers sifting through the wreckage of collapsed high-rises.

Story picture: Disaster and an icy night to follow for survivors stranded in the open (Credit: T24).

Along with the thousands of deaths confirmed so far are thousands of people with serious injuries with no access to medical aid. Then there are the thousands still trapped under debris, calling for help on their mobile phones.

The first earthquake hit at 01:17 local time. The epicentre was somewhere in the vicinity of the Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep provinces. The quake had a magnitude of 7.7-7.8, making it Turkey’s second or third largest earthquake in recorded history going back to the start of the 1900s.

The biggest earthquake in Turkey, with a 7.9 magnitude, devastated the eastern Erzincan province in 1939. The indications are that the first earthquake of the February 6 pair may turn out to be bigger than the 7.8 magnitude recorded in August 17, 1999, in Kocaeli neighbouring Istanbul.

August 17 is a well-known date in Turkey. The local TV channels were on air and the call of the rescue teams became engraved in the minds of all Turks: “Sesimi duyan var mi?” (“Does anyone hear me?”).

February 6 will almost certainly have the same chilling ring to it in the coming decades. And, note that in the days that followed that tragic August 17, everyone was able to sleep outside in the kind weather. Kocaeli was also a central location, easy to access for search and rescue teams and those bringing humanitarian aid.

Image: Much of Turkey is enclosed by three major earthquake lines (while there are many multi-stranded minor lines on the major lines), namely the Eastern Anatolia Earthquake Line, the Northern Anatolia Earthquake Line and the Western Anatolia Earthquake Line.

Image: Currently, the Eastern Anatolia Earthquake Line is active.  

Since the first earthquake hit in the early hours of February 6, the aftershocks have continued, while the second earthquake, another giant, arrived in mid-morning with a 7.5 magnitude at 10:24 local time. The epicentre was in Kahramanmaras but this quake was on a different earthquake line to the first.

The second quake will be registered as the fourth, fifth or sixth largest earthquake in Turkey’s recorded history.

Turks are very much earthquake experts but for those who are not familiar with these monsters is should be noted that the 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 two earthquakes hit 11 provinces that host 14mn people, including Adana (2.3mn), Gaziantep (2.2mn), Sanliurfa (2.2mn), Diyarbakir (1.8mn), Hatay (1.7mn), Kahramanmaras (1.2mn), Malatya (0.8mn), Adiyaman (0.6mn), Osmaniye (0.6mn), Hakkari (0.3mn) and Kilis (0.2mn).

Maras and Hatay were in a particularly bad situation.

The tremors were felt as far away as Egypt, Lebanon, Cyprus and Iraq. In Syria, there were also thousands of casualties.

As the rescue teams went to work, Turkey’s government could do little but go through the motions. It held some press conferences and accepted phone calls for condolences. It declared seven days of national mourning. Mosques were relaying funeral prayers through megaphones. Some of those under debris at the point of death may have found themselves listening to funeral prayers rather than the "Sesimi duyan var mi?" calls of the rescue teams.

Photo: Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, holds a press conference.

All schools in Turkey will be off until February 13. All sport events were cancelled until further notice. Oil (Kerkuk-Yumurtalik and Baku-Tiflis-Ceyhan) and gas pipelines were shut down. Iskenderun Port in Hatay province collapsed and was in flames.

The airport in Hatay province was severely damaged and inoperable. Adana Airport was closed to civil flights. Turkish ministers reached the region via Adana Airport. Train services were also cancelled. Highways in the earthquake-struck region were variously broken up by the quake impact, under snow or jammed thick with traffic.