According to the US Geological Survey, the earthquake occurred around 4:17 am local time (0:117 GMT) at a depth of roughly 17.9 kilometers (11 miles), and it was followed by a 6.7-magnitude aftershock 15 minutes later.
The initial earthquake’s magnitude was recorded by Turkey’s AFAD emergency service center at 7.4.
Yunus Sezer, the director of Turkey’s disaster and emergencies management agency (AFAD), estimates that the death toll from the earthquake has increased to roughly 1,500 people, with tens of thousands of structures devastated.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, said the earthquake was the biggest calamity to hit the nation since 1939.
The Ankara government has requested international aid amid the widespread devastation caused by the quake.
The president of the Turkish Red Crescent also urged the nation to make blood donations.
Kerem Kinik also said on Twitter the organization sending additional shipment of blood to the affected region.
The country’s vice president Fuat Oktay announced the suspension of schools in the 10 affected cities and provinces.
He also announced that flights to and from the airport in Hatay province have been suspended, while airports in Marash and Antep are also closed to civilian flights.
The quake leveled buildings across major cities in southern Turkey, including Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, and caught most people while they were still asleep.
“I have never felt anything like it in the 40 years I’ve lived,” Erdem, a resident of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the quake’s epicenter, told Reuters. “We were shaken at least three times very strongly, like a baby in a crib.”
The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, said it was concerned about areas in Turkey from which there had been no news following the overnight tremor.
“National authorities will be focusing on search and rescue at the moment,” a WHO spokesperson told Reuters in a statement, adding “Then we will expect an increased need for trauma care to treat the injured and to support the entire health system in affected areas.”
In Syria, the country’s official media as well as rescue teams working across the nation put the death toll at over 800.
The official SANA news agency, quoting the country’s health ministry, said the quake had killed at least 461 people and left at least another 1,326 injured, including the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartus.
Rescue teams said over 380 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in northwestern parts of the country, which are held by pro-Turkish militants.
Reports said the Syrian border city of Harem in Idlib province was completely ruined by the quake.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad held an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the necessary measures, according to his office.
Raed Ahmed, who heads Syria’s National Earthquake Center, told Syrian media that this was “historically, the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the center.”
The tremors were also felt in Lebanon and Cyprus.
People in the Lebanese cities of Beirut and Tripoli ran into the street and took to their cars to get away from their buildings in case they collapsed, Reuters cited witnesses as saying.
Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. In 1999, more than 17,000 people were killed in the worst earthquake to hit the country in decades.
The European Union says more than 10 search and rescue teams from the bloc have been mobilized in the wake of Turkey’s major earthquake.