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Earthquake strikes Turkey and Syria: Buildings collapsed for hundreds of miles

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Multiple earthquakes and aftershocks have struck southeast Turkey in recent hours. The first delivered a magnitude of 7.8. It hit while many were sleeping, and the devastation spread to nearby Syria. Videos showed people running in darkness and rain surrounded by flattened buildings.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Arabic).

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Afterward, people felt multiple aftershocks, including one that nearly equaled the force of the original quake. Across southern Turkey and northern Syria, the reported death toll has climbed above 1,000.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Ruth Sherlock joins us now from Lebanon. Ruth, did you feel those earthquakes where you're at?

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hi. Well, yes, I did. It was about 3:20 a.m. my time, and I woke up, and our whole building was swaying. So my husband and I grabbed our children and ran outside. Of course, we were fine. But then I started hearing, just as you say, just how bad it was in Turkey and in Syria. You know, the epicenter was just north of Gaziantep. That's a provincial capital in Turkey with a million - oh, sorry - with a population of more than 2 million people.

And, A, to put this into perspective for you, the force of this earthquake - there have been reports of buildings collapsed in an area that spans 200 miles around the epicenter. In Gaziantep, I'm told there's extensive damage in the older parts of the city. And then residential buildings have also collapsed in Adana, Diyarbakir and other cities. And in these places, people tried to escape in their cars, but that just jammed the roads and made it harder for emergency services to help the wounded. And then just now, a few hours after the first earthquake, there's been a tremor almost as powerful as the first one, almost in the same area. Videos shared online show, you know, more buildings collapsing.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So that's Turkey. What about the situation in Syria?

SHERLOCK: Well, the Syrian government says there's been widespread destruction across the provinces of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia. And the earthquakes also devastated parts of the country that had been taken by the opposition in the civil war that's still going on there. We reached Raed Saleh. He's the head of the White Helmets. That's a civil defense group that works in these areas.

RAED SALEH: (Speaking Arabic).

SHERLOCK: He's saying, "truthfully, the situation is disastrous." He gave us a long list of the names of towns and villages. And he says in all these areas, buildings have fallen to the ground. Families are trapped under the rubble. Videos from this part of northern Syria show a whole street essentially flattened. And as I've mentioned, all of this comes after more than a decade of war. So lots of people in northern Syria have fled fighting from other parts of the country. And of the population of about 4 million people there, the U.N. says 3 million people can't easily access food. And that was even before the earthquake.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, Ruth, there's going to be thousands, at least, that are going to need help and fast. What are you hearing about rescue operations?

SHERLOCK: Well, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has says in addition to, you know, their own rescue efforts, they've received offers of help from 45 countries. President Biden has asked the USAID and other aid groups to assess how they can help the worst-hit areas. Turkey says in an assessment, so far, 3,000 buildings have collapsed.

In northern Syria, though, you know, efforts are hampered by the fact that four hospitals have had to be evacuated because of damage. And I'm told, you know, the rest are totally overwhelmed. Some of the doctors themselves have lost families in all this. This area has been hit badly by airstrikes by the Syrian regime and Russia, including its medical centers. Doctors had set up those centers underground to protect from airstrikes, but that has not made things easier in an earthquake.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Ruth Sherlock in Lebanon. Ruth, thanks.

SHERLOCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.