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Map of Turkey shows where massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck

A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake has hit southeast Turkey, toppling buildings and leaving a trail of disaster in seven Turkish provinces and northern Syria, with tremors felt as far as Cairo.

The high-magnitude tremor struck at 4.17am local time on Monday in southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border, according to the US Geological Survey.

The epicentre of the quake was near the city of Gaziantep at a depth of 17.9km, impacting around seven provinces in Turkey and a large area in northern Syria.

More than 1,650 people have been confirmed dead in Turkey alone, taking the total tally of deaths including Syria above 2,600.

Mr Erdogan tweeted in the morning that “search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched” to the areas hit by the quake.

“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage,” he wrote.

A second earthquake, measuring at least 7.5 magnitude was later felt in central Turkey.

Meanwhile, At least 968 people were killed in Syria, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue workers in the northwestern region controlled by the opposition.

The two earthquakes above 7 magnitude that struck Turkey (Datawrapper/The Independent)
The two earthquakes above 7 magnitude that struck Turkey (Datawrapper/The Independent)

Most deaths in Turkey were reported in the province of Kahramanmaras where the quake epicentre was located with toll standing at 70 till 11am local time, according to vice-president Fuat Oktay.

Mr Oktay said strong tremors were also felt in Osmaniye, Sanliurf, Diyarbakir and Adiyaman where 20, 18, 14 and 13 people are confirmed dead respectively.

There are fears the death toll will rise sharply in the coming hours.

Residents on both sides of the border escaped their homes on a chilly winter night, startled out of their sleep by the early morning earthquake as buildings were levelled and powerful aftershocks persisted.

A man searches collapsed buildings in Diyarbakir, southern Turkey (Depo Photos)
A man searches collapsed buildings in Diyarbakir, southern Turkey (Depo Photos)

The quake heavily damaged Gaziantep’s most famed landmark, its historic castle perched atop a hill in the centre of the city. Parts of the fortresses’ walls and watch towers were levelled and other parts were heavily damaged, images from the city showed.

Buildings were reported collapsed in a cross-border region extending from Syria’s cities of Aleppo and Hama to Turkey‘s Diyarbakir, more than 200 miles to the north-east, with 900 buildings collapsing just in Turkey’s Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras provinces.

In north-west Syria, the quake added new woes to the opposition-held enclave centred on the province of Idlib, which has been under siege for years, with frequent Russian and government air strikes.

The territory depends on a flow of aid from nearby Turkey for everything from food to medical supplies.

The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence described the situation there as “disastrous”, adding that entire buildings have collapsed and people are trapped under the rubble.

In Damascus, buildings shook and many people went down to the streets in fear.

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.

At least 20 aftershocks followed, some hours later during daylight, the strongest measuring 6.6, Turkish authorities said.

People trying to leave the quake-stricken regions caused traffic jams in Turkey, hampering efforts of emergency teams trying to reach the affected areas.

Authorities urged residents not to take to the roads.

Mosques around the region were being opened up as a shelter for people unable to return to damaged homes amid temperatures that hovered around freezing.

Rescuers and locals continue to look for survivors through mountains of concrete and metal debris as cranes rushed people on stretchers.

Additional reporting by agencies