A powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake has hit Turkey’s southern province of Hatay, terrifying those left in a region devastated by powerful twin earthquakes two weeks earlier.
The quake, less powerful than the initial 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes which tore a path of destruction through southern Turkey and northern Syria on 6 February, threatening yet more devastation in a region that had seen many people flee their destroyed homes for the safety of other towns and villages outside of the earthquake zone.
It struck at a depth of just two km (1.2 miles), the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said, potentially magnifying its impact at ground level. It was centred near the southern Turkish city of Antakya and was felt in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.
Turkey’s disaster management agency AFAD said that the 6.4 magnitude epicentre was in the Defne district of Hatay, an area on the southernmost tip of the regional centre Antakya that stretches towards the town of Samandağ, places that had already complained of a lacklustre government response to their suffering following the earthquakes of two weeks ago.
“It was the first day we’d decided to stay in our house as it’s just one floor, and I was using our heater to try and stay warm, demonstrating what to do in case another earthquake happened,” said Ata Koşar in the Hatay town of Ekinci, who lost his brother, his sister-in-law and his nephew when their nearby luxury apartment block collapsed during the first earthquake.
“I was laying on the floor, and as I was laying there another earthquake happened. We heard what sounded like more buildings collapsing again, and more damage to our house,” he said mournfully.
Witnesses said rescue teams were checking people were unharmed.
Muna al-Omar, a resident of Antakya, said she was in a tent in a park when the earthquake 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.
“Is there going to be another aftershock?” she asked.
Those who had remained in Hatay for two weeks after the first quakes struck said that they did so out of fear of losing their homes entirely, or a sense that they had nowhere else to go despite a lack of power and running water in the region.
The death toll from the quakes two weeks ago rose to 41,156 in Turkey, the country’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority AFAD said on Monday, and it was expected to climb further, with 385,000 apartments known to have been destroyed or seriously damaged and many people still missing.
At least 47,000 are estimated to have died across Turkey and Syria, with the numbers expected to rise further, with some of the worst devastation centred along a fault line that runs from Hatay province and across deep into Turkey’s southeast region.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said construction work on nearly 200,000 apartments in 11 earthquake-hit provinces of Turkey would begin next month.
Hours earlier, the 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 and aftershocks were winding down, and focus turned to towards urgent shelter and reconstruction work.
Blinken viewed the devastation in Hatay province with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu a day before the second quake struck, pledging an additional £83 million in aid to Turkey and Syria on top of the £71 million initially pledged by president Joe Biden.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Blinken said, trying to describe what he saw. “Countless buildings, communities, streets, damaged or fully destroyed.”
Among the survivors of the earthquakes are about 356,000 pregnant women who urgently need access to health services, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA) has said.
They include 226,000 women in Turkey and 130,000 in Syria, about 38,800 of whom will deliver in the next month. Many of them were sheltering in camps or exposed to freezing temperatures and struggling to get food or clean water.
In Syria, already shattered by more than a decade of civil war, most deaths have been in the northwest, where the United Nations said 4,525 people were killed. The area is controlled by insurgents at war with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, complicating aid efforts.
Syrian officials say 1,414 people were killed in areas under the control of Assad’s government, amid concerns the true figure was likely to be far higher before the second earthquake struck.