7.8 magnitude earthquake knocks down buildings in central Turkey

Dozens of people have been confirmed dead after a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked southeast Turkey and Syria early Monday, leveling several buildings as people slept in their beds. 

The quake killed at least 31 people, according to initial reports — however, the toll is expected to rise steeply as rescuers frantically search for survivors trapped under the rubble. 

The earthquake’s center struck an area about 20 miles from Gaziantep, a major city and provincial capital 60 miles from the Syrian border, according to the US Geological Survey. It was centered 11 miles deep and was followed by a strong 6.7-magnitude aftershock about 10 minutes later.  

At least 11 people were dead in the Syrian town of Atmed, but the initially reported fatalities are expected to be only a small fraction of the total toll, a doctor on the ground told The Associated Press. 

“We fear that the deaths are in the hundreds,” R. Muheeb Qaddour said, referring to the rebel-held northwest. “We are under extreme pressure.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that authorities immediately dispatched search and rescue teams to the areas struck by the quake and its six aftershocks. 

“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage,” he said on Twitter. 

Officials urged residents to stay away from the damaged buildings — some of which had completely collapsed into piles of concrete rubble and mangled metal.

“Our priority is to bring out people trapped under ruined buildings and to transfer them to hospitals,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said. 

Devastating videos of the aftermath shared on Twitter show piles of rubble where entire buildings once stood.

People, reportedly trapped under the rubble of flattened buildings, have put out desperate pleas for help on Twitter and in live-streamed videos, according to social media accounts. 

The quake hit the two countries around dawn — when many people were home asleep in their beds. The current death toll is reported to be 18 dead in Turkey and 13 in Syria, according to various officials. However, the numbers are quickly growing. 

More than 130 buildings tumbled down in Turkey’s Malatya province, Gov. Hulusi Sahin said.

The earthquake destroyed utilities as well. A gas pipeline near the city of Kahramanmaraş in Southern Turkey has reportedly exploded and is burning out of control. 

The damage stretched to Syria, where the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense called the situation in the rebel-held region “disastrous” with people trapped underneath destroyed buildings. The country’s death toll was not yet known. 

The country’s state media reported downed buildings in the northern city of Aleppo and the central city of Hama. In the capital city of Damascus, people ran down to the streets in fear as their buildings shook. 

A British doctor and humanitarian aid worker in Idlib, Syria shared a video from a hospital with a child bandaged around the head laying down behind him. 

“Quite a lot of building have fell, we’re still trying to figure out what’s going on,” Dr. Shajul Islam said in the video posted to Twitter. “These children have been pulled out of rubble literally… Injuries are coming in one after another as they’ve been pulled out of rubble.”

He said the quake was the strongest one he has ever felt. 

People in other areas of the Middle East also reported feeling the tremble. The quake shook buildings in Lebanon for about 40 seconds, jolting sleeping residents awake and was felt as far away as Cairo, Egypt. 

The quake struck the region as a snowstorm batters the Middle East. The snow is expected to continue falling until Thursday. 

Earthquakes are common in Turkey, which sits atop major fault lines. In 1999, about 18,000 people were killed in a horrific quake that shook northwest Turkey.

With Post wires

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