Tens of thousands of people in Turkey and Syria were wrenched from their beds early this morning by the sound of the Earth splitting apart.
The most devastating earthquake to hit the region since 1939 erupted under their feet before dawn, wreaking a trail of utter chaos that stretched beyond 200 miles across both nations.
More than 2,600 people have already lost their lives, with thousands more trapped under the rubble of countless buildings torn down by the savage 7.8-magnitude quake.
Hours later, weakened structures that managed to withstand the initial shockwave collapsed as a second earthquake of almost equal magnitude broke out, burying yet more helpless bodies under a mass of concrete and terrorizing displaced families forced to huddle together for warmth in the bitter winter air.
Devastating moment buildings collapse after earthquake hits Turkey
This video grab shows the horrifying moment a Turkish street was turned into a demolition site
A man is rescued from under rubble of collapsed building, 11 hours after an earthquake hit Diyarbakir, Turkey on February 6, 2023
An aerial view of collapsed 14-storey-building after 7.7 magnitude earthquake hits Pazarcik district of Adana, Turkey
This aerial view shows residents searching for victims and survivors amidst the rubble of collapsed buildings following an earthquake in the village of Besnia near the town of Harim, in Syria’s rebel-held northwestern Idlib province
It’s no wonder the earthquake wrought such havoc – its shockwave carried such power that it registered on the sensors of seismologists as far north as Greenland.
But the footage is nonetheless utterly stupefying.
Citizens can be seen going about their business, walking through the streets as traffic buzzes about when suddenly they are plunged into the centre of a demolition site.
Huge buildings that appeared rooted to the ground folded like a stack of cards without warning and engulfed passers-by in a cloud of toxic dust.
One man who spoke to AFP in the Syrian city of Aleppo said the terror of seeing his building collapse and crush several families who were unable to escape was unmatched even by the armed conflict that has plagued Syria for years.
‘I haven’t had that feeling all through the years of the war’ in Syria since 2011, Anas Habbash said.
‘This was much more difficult than shells and bullets.’
Turkey’s president Erdogan said this morning that more than 2,800 buildings across the country had been brought tumbling down, but the true number is likely to be far higher.
Dozens of people stood atop the rubble of an apartment block they once called home
Civil defence workers and residents search through the rubble of collapsed buildings in the Besnia village near the Turkish border, Idlib province, Syria, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023
Rescuers search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in rebel-held town of Jandaris, Syria February 6, 2023
People search for survivors under the rubble following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey February 6, 2023
This clip shows how dozens of people stood atop a mountain of rubble which just minutes earlier had been a multi-story apartment block, their bodies frozen in place and expressions of utter bewilderment etched across their faces.
Others meanwhile scrabbled at the debris with their bare hands, risking their own lives in a desperate attempt to dig for survivors crushed beneath the rock and twisted metal that had previously constituted their home.
As government officials and aid organisations began to coordinate their response, various cranes, diggers and earth movers were deployed to remove the heaviest chunks of wreckage, allowing volunteers to let loose with their handheld shovels.
But scores of terrified civilians were left simply standing in the streets, some wearing little more than nightgowns and pyjamas despite the freezing temperatures.
As night fell, hordes of ambulances and emergency vehicles descended on the scene of one collapsed building, their flashing blue lights illuminating the almost war-like backdrop and accentuating the scale of the damage.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan warned the true number of casualties would not be known for days, while disaster experts predicted the eventual death toll could exceed 10,000.
Rescue men evacuate a child pulled out of the rubble following an earthquake in northwestern Syrian Idlib in the rebel-held part of Idlib province
People try to help victims at the site of a collapsed building after an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey 06 February 2023
A rescuer speaks to an injured person trapped under the rubble in Afrin, Syria
In the hours following the destructive tremors, harrowing footage emerged of survivors filming themselves trapped inside the wreckage, pleading on social media for help to escape.
Casualties described how their homes began to shake so violently that walls cracked and crumbled, while others said the noise was like hearing a freight train thundering right past their window.
One man, Nilüfer Aslan, described calling out to his relatives in their fifth-floor apartment in the Turkish city of Adana, saying: ‘There is an earthquake, at least let’s die together in the same place.’
The family escaped, but found the four buildings surrounding theirs had all collapsed, leaving many trapped inside.
The first quake, which measured 7.8 magnitude, struck in the early hours of this morning as families slept inside their homes, leaving them little time to collect their wits and escape unscathed.
Rescue operations will continue around the clock, but arduous conditions, plunging temperatures and the sheer scale of the destruction mean rescuers face a harrowing task.
Residents retrieve a small child from the rubble of a collapsed building following an earthquake in the town of Jandaris, in the countryside of Syria’s northwestern city of Afrin in the rebel-held part of Aleppo province, on February 6, 2023
A man pulls a child, seemingly unhurt from underneath a collapsed building
A girl grimaces as she’s pulled out from the rubble of a collapsed building in Afrin, Syria
A rescue man carries a child pulled out of the rubble following an earthquake in northwestern Syrian Idlib in the rebel-held part of Idlib province, on February 6, 2023
A series of clips, heart- wrenching and warming in equal measure, showed how brave rescuers and residents managed to pull several children out from under a collapsed structure, saving them from what looked to have been almost certain death.
Rescuers could be heard whooping in delight as they successfully extracted kids through impossibly small gaps in the debris, with many of them emerging seemingly only with minor injuries.
But their joy will be short lived – many families will have lost everything they own and are now without a home amid the winter chill.
Children in Syria in particular face one of the most complex humanitarian situations in the world.
A worsening economic crisis, continued localized hostilities after more than a decade of grinding conflict, mass displacement and devastated public infrastructure have left two-thirds of the population in need of assistance.
‘The images we’re seeing out of Syria and Turkey are heart-wrenching,’ said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. ‘That the initial earthquake happened so early in the morning, when many children were fast asleep, made it even more dangerous, and the aftershocks bring continuing risks.
‘Our hearts and thoughts are with the children and families affected, especially those who have lost loved ones or who have been injured. Our immediate priority is to ensure children and families affected receive the support they so desperately need.’