A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked wide swaths of Turkey and neighboring Syria on Monday, killing more than 3,400 people and injuring thousands more as it toppled thousands of buildings and trapped residents under mounds of rubble.
Authorities feared the death toll would keep climbing as rescuers searched through tangles of metal and concrete for survivors in a region beset by Syria’s 12-year civil war and a refugee crisis.
Residents jolted out of sleep by the pre-dawn quake rushed outside in the rain and snow to escape falling debris, while those who were trapped cried for help.
Throughout the day, major aftershocks rattled the region, including a jolt nearly as strong as the initial quake.
After night fell, workers were still sawing away slabs and pulling out bodies as desperate families waited for news on trapped loved ones.
“My grandson is 1 1/2 years old. Please help them, please. We can’t hear them or get any news from them since morning.
Please, they were on the 12th floor,” Imran Bahur wept by her destroyed apartment building in the Turkish city of Adana.
Her daughter and family were still not found.
Tens of thousands who were left homeless in Turkey and Syria faced a night in the cold. In Turkey’s Gaziantep, a provincial capital about 33 kilometers (20 miles) from the epicenter, people took refuge in shopping malls, stadiums and community centers. Mosques around the region were opened to provide shelter.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared seven days of national mourning.
The quake, which was centered on Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, sent residents of Damascus and Beirut rushing into the street and was felt as far away as Cairo.
The quake piled more misery on a region that has seen tremendous suffering over the past decade. On the Syrian side, the area is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is home to millions of refugees from the civil war.
In the rebel-held enclave, hundreds of families remained trapped in rubble, the opposition emergency organization, called the White Helmets said in a statement. The area is packed with some 4 million people displaced from other parts of the country by the war. Many of them live in buildings that are already wrecked from past bombardments.
Strained health facilities quickly filled with injured, rescue workers said. Others had to be emptied, including a maternity hospital, according to the SAMS medical organization.
More than 7,800 people were rescued across 10 provinces, according to Orhan Tatar, an official with Turkey’s disaster management authority.
The region sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. Some 18,000 were killed in similarly powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkey in 1999.