The toll from the devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria on Monday crossed 11,000 as rescue operations continued on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. The toll has surpassed the 8,800 deaths in the 2015 Nepal earthquake, making it the deadliest quake in more than a decade.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the casualties in the country had passed 8,500. The Syrian health ministry reported 1,200 deaths in government-controlled areas, while the White Helmets rescue group, which operates in rebel-held areas, has put the toll at 1,400.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that one citizen who was on a business visit is missing, while 10 Indians are stuck in remote parts of the country. The secretary (West) in the foreign ministry, Sanjay Verma, said the government is in touch with the family members of the Indian who is missing.

A major earthquake of 7.8 magnitude hit close to the Turkish city of Gaziantep early on Monday. It was followed by another of 7.5 magnitude, causing widespread destruction.

The first quake struck at 4.17 am local time and the epicentre was located 17.9 kilometres below the ground surface, about 33 kilometres away from Gaziantep. Tremors were also felt in the neighbouring countries of Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus.

On Tuesday, Turkey had declared a three-month-long emergency in 10 provinces. The move will enable the government to bypass Parliament while enacting new laws to restrict or suspend rights and freedoms.

“We have decided to declare a state of emergency in order for search and rescue operations and the following efforts to be carried out rapidly,” Erdogan said. “We will quickly complete the Presidency and National Assembly processes regarding this decision.”

People and rescue workers stand on the rubble of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Adana, Turkey, February 7, 2023. | Reuters/Emilie Madi

Erdogan said that the earthquakes were shallow, exponentially increasing the intensity of the destruction.

“Experts describe these two earthquakes as unprecedented earth movements which are independent of one another but still trigger each other,” the Turkish president said. “...As a result, we are faced with one of the biggest disasters of not only our Republican history, but also of our region and the world.”

A woman is carried out by rescuers from the site of a collapsed building in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, February 7, 2023. | Reuters/Dilara Senkaya

Erdogan also noted that cold weather in affected areas has made rescue operations challenging, adding that Turkey has been offered air by 70 countries and 14 international organizations.

“I have spoken with 18 heads of state and government who have called us on the phone,” Erdogan said. “I would like to thank all our friends, all the heads of state and government who have called us or sent messages to offer support and aid and have made statements during these difficult times of our country.”

Erdogan made the comment even as there was widespread despair and growing anger among citizens against the slow pace of rescue efforts in some areas, reported The Associated Press.

“It’s like we woke up to hell,” one citizen told the news agency. “We can’t respond to absolutely anything. Help isn’t coming, can’t come. We can’t reach anyone at all. Everywhere is destroyed.”