A major earthquake of magnitude 7.9 struck central Turkey and northwest Syria on Monday, killing scores of people and injuring hundreds as buildings collapsed, and triggering searches across the snowy region for survivors trapped in the rubble.

The quake, which struck in the early darkness of a winter morning, was also felt in Cyprus and Lebanon.

“I have never felt anything like it in the 40 years I’ve lived,” said Erdem, a resident of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the quake’s epicentre, who declined to give his surname.

“We were shaken at least three times very strongly, like a baby in a crib.”

Turkey’s disaster agency said 76 people had been killed, and 440 hurt, as authorities scrambled rescue teams and supply aircraft to the area around the city of Kahramanmaras, while declaring a “level 4 alarm” that calls for international assistance.

A witness for Reuters reported that the tremor, which occurred 350 kilometers (218 miles) to the east in Diyarbakir, broke windows and caused at least 17 structures to collapse.

Authorities said that 34 buildings in Osmaniye and 16 in Sanliurfa fell.

In Kahramanmaras, where it was still dark, television stations TRT and Haberturk aired footage of people searching through building rubble, transferring stretchers, and looking for survivors.

“Our primary job is to carry out the search and rescue work and to do that all our teams are on alert,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters.

The EMSC monitoring service said it was evaluating the risk of a tsunami, however the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) reported that the earthquake occurred at a depth of 10 km (6 miles).

Following the original tremor, which was recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as having a magnitude of 7.8, a number of further earthquakes were detected. A 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck Gaziantep, and a 5.6-magnitude one struck the city’s Nurdag neighborhood.

Near Kahramanmaras and the bigger city of Gaziantep, close to the Syrian border, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) of Turkey estimated the magnitude of the earthquake to be 7.4.

Ankara, the capital of Turkey, 460 kilometers (286 miles) from the epicenter, and Cyprus, where police reported no damage, both experienced tremors.

Strong earthquakes frequently hit the region.

“The earthquake struck in a region that we feared. There is serious widespread damage,” Kerem Kinik, the chief of the Turkish Red Crescent relief agency, told Haberturk, issuing an appeal for blood donations.


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