The most powerful earthquake in nearly a century struck Turkey and Syria early Monday, killing over 1,200 people in their sleep, leveling buildings and causing tremors felt as far away as Iraq.
The 7.8-magnitude quake wiped out entire sections of major Turkish cities in a restless region filled with millions of people who have fled the civil war in Syria and other conflicts.
Turkey's emergency services said at least 1,498 people had died, with another 810 confirmed fatalities in neighboring Syria, putting the total at 2,308.
According to media reports, the initial quake was felt across Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, Syria, the United Kingdom, Iraq, Georgia, and Armenia.
The quake jolted residents in Lebanon from beds, shaking buildings for about 40 seconds. Many residents of Beirut left their homes and took to the streets or drove in their cars away from buildings, terrorized by memories of the 2020 port explosion that wrecked a large swath of the city.
Television images from Turkey showed shocked people standing in the snow in their pajamas, watching rescuers dig through the debris of damaged homes.
The quake struck at 04:17 am local time (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 17.9 kilometers (11 miles), the U.S. agency said, with a 6.7-magnitude aftershock striking 15 minutes later.
Turkey's AFAD emergencies service center put the first quake's magnitude at 7.4.
"I convey my best wishes to all our citizens who were affected by the earthquake," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted.
"We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage."
The earthquake leveled dozens of buildings across major cities of southern Turkey as well as neighboring Syria, a country gripped by more than a decade of violence that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions of people.
Images on Turkish television and social media showed rescuers digging through the rubble of leveled buildings in the city of Kahramanmaras and neighboring Gaziantep.
A fire lit up the night sky in one image from Kahramanmaras, although its origin remained unclear.
NTV television said buildings also crumbled in the cities of Adiyaman, Malatya and Diyarbakir.
CNN Turk television said the quake was also felt across parts of central Turkey and the capital Ankara.
- 'Biggest earthquake' -
Syrian state television reported that a building near Latakia, on the west coast of Syria, had collapsed.
Pro-government media said several buildings had partially collapsed in Hama, central Syria, with civil defence and firefighters working to pull survivors out of the rubble.
Raed Ahmed, who heads Syria's National Earthquake Center, told pro-government radio that this was "historically, the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the center."
Turkey is in one of the world's most active earthquake zones.
The Turkish region of Duzce suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999 -- the worst to hit Turkey in decades.
That quake killed more than 17,000 people, including about 1,000 in Istanbul.
Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.
A magnitude-6.8 quake hit Elazig in January 2020, killing more than 40 people.
And in October that year, a magnitude-7.0 quake hit the Aegean Sea, killing 114 people and wounding more than 1,000.
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