Six people were killed in the latest earthquake to strike the border region of Turkey and Syria, authorities said on Tuesday, two weeks after a massive quake killed more than 47,000 people and damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes.
Monday’s quake, which struck just as the rescue work from the initial devastating earthquake was winding down, was centred near the Turkish city of Antakya and was felt in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.
The magnitude of the quake was measured at 6.3 by US and European seismological agencies, and at 6.4 by Turkish monitors.
It was followed by 90 aftershocks, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said, adding fresh trauma to Antakya residents left homeless and living in tents by the magnitude 7.8 earthquake on 6 February.
“To me this is one of the signs of the apocalypse. I felt that we were going to die, that we would be buried here,” said 47-year-old blacksmith Murat Vural.
He called his friend shortly after Monday’s quake to tell him they should leave town. “This is no longer a place we can remain,” he said. “We are mostly worried for our lives.”
More than 41,000 people were killed in Turkey in the initial quake, officials say, while the toll in neighbouring Syria stands at around 6,000.
President Tayyip Erdogan said 865,000 people are living in tents and 23,500 in containers, while 376,000 are in student dormitories and public guesthouses outside the earthquake zone.
With so many buildings destroyed, up to 210 million tonnes of rubble will need to be cleared, United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP) Turkey representative Louisa Vinton said.
“It would take an area of 7 million square metres (75.5 million sq feet) to dispose of that rubble. It’s a huge task ahead,” Vinton said.
Erdogan’s government has faced criticism about what many Turks said was a slow response, and over construction policies that meant thousands of apartment buildings collapsed, trapping victims under rubble.
“It is our duty to hold the wrongdoers accountable before the law,” Erdogan said in the southern province of Osmaniye.
In power for two decades, he faces presidential and parliamentary elections in May, although the disaster could prompt a delay in the vote. Even before the quakes, opinion polls showed he was under pressure from a cost of living crisis, which could worsen as the disaster has disrupted agricultural production.
Swift Rebuild Promised
Erdogan has promised a swift reconstruction effort, although experts say it could be a recipe for another disaster if safety steps are sacrificed in the race to rebuild.
“We won’t run away from the ballot box or disregard democracy,” said Devlet Bahceli, an Erdogan ally and leader of the nationalist party MHP, adding that the opposition was “obsessed and delusional” for criticising the government’s earthquake response and for discussing the election timing.
“Turkey ... will bury you at the ballot box soon,” he said.
In Antakya, one man hugged and consoled another who was crying after news about people killed in the already shattered city after they had entered a building to retrieve possessions when the latest earthquake struck, bringing the structure down.
A rescue team lowered one of the dead, covered in a yellow bag, down a ladder from the destroyed apartment block, before it was placed in a coffin to be transported in a municipal van.
In Syria, already shattered by more than a decade of war, most deaths have been in the northwest, where the United Nations said 4,525 people were killed. The area is controlled by insurgents at war with President Bashar al-Assad.