On Tuesday night, rescuers in Turkey and Syria dug with their bare hands through the bitterly cold night in search of survivors among the wreckage of the thousands of buildings that had been destroyed by a series of powerful earthquakes.
Following a series of powerful tremors close to the Turkey-Syria border, the number of confirmed fatalities across the two countries has risen past 4,300. The strongest of these shocks had a magnitude of 7.8. The first earthquake on Monday occurred at 4:17 a.m. (0117 GMT) near the city of Gaziantep, Turkey, which has a population of around two million, at a depth of roughly 18 kilometers (11 miles).
According to the disaster management organization, more than 14,000 injuries have so far been reported in Turkey, while at least 3,411 injuries have been reported in Syria.
More than 5,600 buildings, including several multi-story apartment buildings that were packed with sleeping occupants when the first earthquake struck, have been flattened across numerous cities, according to Turkish and Syrian disaster response teams.
Eyewitnesses in the southeast Turkish city of Kahramanmaras struggled to grasp the scope of the catastrophe.
“We thought it was the apocalypse,” said Melisa Salman, a 23-year-old reporter. “That was the first time we have ever experienced anything like that.”
Turkey’s humanitarian organization AFAD reported on Tuesday that the confirmed death toll had increased to 4,365, with 2,921 of those deaths occurring in Turkey alone.
With up to 20,000 possible fatalities, according to World Health Organization authorities, there are worries that the death toll may continue to increase steadily.
Rescuers searching amid the rubble in Gaziantep, a Turkish city where numerous refugees from Syria’s ten-year civil conflict now reside, screamed, sobbed, and pleaded for protection as another building abruptly collapsed nearby.
The original earthquake’s magnitude was so great that it could be felt as far away as Greenland, and its effects were so severe that they prompted a global response.
Although freezing rain and below-freezing temperatures have hindered the response, dozens of countries, from the Ukraine to New Zealand, have committed to provide assistance.
Rescuers were working through the night to try and extract people from the rubble of a fallen seven-story building in the city of Sanliurfa in southeast Turkey.
“There is a family I know under the rubble,” said 20-year-old Syrian student Omer El Cuneyd.
“Until 11:00 am or noon, my friend was still answering the phone. But she no longer answers. She is down there.”
Despite freezing temperatures outside, terrified residents spent the night on the streets, huddling around fires for warmth.
Mustafa Koyuncu packed his wife and their five children into their car, too scared to move.
“We can’t go home,” the 55-year-old told AFP. “Everyone is afraid.”
Near the epicenter of the earthquake, between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, large sections of cities lay in ruins as snow began to accumulate.