Alwaght- A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake has hit Turkey and Syria early on Monday, killing more than 500 people and trapping many others in the neighboring countries.
The quake struck at 04:17 am local time (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 17.9 kilometers (11 miles) and was followed by a 6.7-magnitude aftershock 15 minutes later, according to the US Geological Survey.
Turkey’s AFAD emergencies service center put the first quake’s magnitude at 7.4.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said 284 people were killed and more than 2,300 people injured in the quake. According to his remarks, most of the deaths were reported in southern province of Kahramanmaras, where the quake epicenter was located.
The quake leveled buildings across major cities in southern Turkey, including Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, and caught most people while they were still asleep.
“I have never felt anything like it in the 40 years I’ve lived,” Erdem, a resident of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the quake’s epicenter, told Reuters. “We were shaken at least three times very strongly, like a baby in a crib.”
Commenting on the incident, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a tweet “I convey my best wishes to all our citizens who were affected by the earthquake.”
The quake also left behind many casualties and destroyed buildings in Syria’s Aleppo, Hama and nearby provinces.
A Syrian health official said more than 230 people had been killed and some 600 injured, most of them in Aleppo, Hamaand and Latakia.
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad held an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the necessary measures, according to his office.
Raed Ahmed, who heads Syria’s National Earthquake Center, told Syrian media that this was “historically, the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the center.”
The tremors were also felt in Lebanon and Cyprus.
People in the Lebanese cities of Beirut and Tripoli ran into the street and took to their cars to get away from their buildings in case they collapsed, Reuters cited witnesses as saying.
Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. In 1999, more than 17,000 people were killed in the worst earthquake to hit the country in decades.