A 6.4-magnitude earthquake has rocked Turkey's Southern Province of Hatay and Northern Syria, killing six people and sparking fresh panic after a massive February 6 tremor left nearly 45,000 dead in both countries.
The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD) reported the deaths and at least 300 hospitalisations. While in Syria, the White Helmets Aid Group said at least 150 people were injured in the Aleppo region.
The quake hit the Turkish town of Defne on Monday at 8:04 pm (2004 EAT) and was strongly felt by AFP teams in the nearby City of Antakya. It was also felt in Lebanon and Cyprus.
Turkey's AFAD said on Twitter that a 5.8-magnitude quake followed three minutes later, with its epicentre in the Samandag District of Hatay Province.
The agency recorded two more tremors with magnitudes of 5.2 around 20 minutes after the first one.
"The road moved like waves. The building moved back and forth; the cars moved left to right. It knocked me off my feet," said Mehmet Irmak, who works at a Notary's office in Antakya.
"Hatay is no longer a safe place. We could hear a lot of buildings collapsing," said Irmak, who had been sleeping in his car for two weeks after the first quake.
He said they would wait for a new day, but unaware on what to do.
AFAD said among the dead were three people who got trapped after going back to their damaged flats to retrieve belongings even after being warned not to do so.
On 21 February 2023, AFAD said it was sending 6,000 extra tents to the region to shelter those in need.
Earth opening up
Images from Dogan News Agency (DHA) showed a hospital in Antakya being evacuated. The agency said patients in an intensive care unit were taken by ambulance to field hospitals to continue their treatment.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said rescue workers were trying to find people trapped under rubble.
An AFP journalist reported scenes of panic in Antakya, with the new tremors raising clouds of dust in the devastated city.
The walls of badly damaged buildings crumbled while several people injured called for help.
“We were with AFAD who were looking for the bodies of our family when the quake hit.” Ali Mazlum told AFP on a street in Antakya. He said they did not know what to do and as they grabbed each other, the building walls fell on them.
Mazlum, who has lived in Antakya for 12 years, was looking for the bodies of his sister and her family as well as his brother-in-law and his family.
The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) said five hospitals it supports in Northwest Syria received several people who had sustained minor injuries when parts of damaged buildings fell on them.
“In government-held areas of Syria, Aleppo hospitals also received panic-hit residents, while six people were injured by falling rubble.” Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said.
The state media also reported Al Razi hospital in Aleppo received 47 injured persons.
"We rushed out. I was afraid that we would meet the same fate as those who died under the rubble," said Khadija Al Khalaf, a 45-year-old mother, in the rebel-held city of Azaz.
According to AFAD, more than 6,200 aftershocks have been recorded since the 7.8-magnitude hit Turkey and Syria on February 6, leaving millions homeless.
Officials said following the quake, aftershocks would be felt for a year because of the force from the first tremor.
Officials have set the death toll from that quake at 41,156 people in Turkey and 3,688 in Syria, but experts say the number will rise as the rubble is cleared and rescue operations end.
Eleven provinces in Turkey were hit by the previous tremors and on Sunday, officials said rescue operations would continue in only two of the provinces namely, Hatay and Kahramanmaras.
"My thoughts continue to be with the people of Turkey and Syria, as they face the impact of new earthquakes striking the region this evening." wrote UN Chief Antonio Guterres on Twitter.
He said UN teams in the two countries are assessing the situation and ready to provide additional support as needed.
Earlier on February 20, 2023, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks in Ankara with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, as he wrapped up a visit during which he pledged solidarity after the tremors.
The United States has contributed $185 million in assistance to Turkey and Syria.