The death toll in Turkey following Monday morning’s earthquakes has risen to 1,541, according to the country’s vice-president.
Fuat Oktay says more than 9,700 people have been injured after the two quakes struck the south and south-east of the country today.
He did not go into how many casualties, if any, resulted from the second quake.
There were 145 aftershocks following both quakes, three of whose magnitudes were larger than 6.0, he added.
Some 3,500 buildings had been destroyed, Oktay also said, as rescuers continued to search through the debris in freezing conditions looking for survivors.
The Earth’s crust is made up of separate bits, called plates, that nestle alongside each other.
These plates often try to move, but are prevented by the friction of rubbing up against an adjoining one. But sometimes, the pressure builds until one plate suddenly jerks across, causing the surface to move.
In this case, it was the Arabian plate moving northwards and grinding against the Anatolian plate.
Friction from the plates has been responsible for very damaging earthquakes in the past.
On 13 August 1822, it caused an earthquake registering 7.4 in magnitude, significantly less than the 7.8 magnitude recorded today.
Even so, the 19th-Century earthquake resulted in immense damage to towns in the area, with 7,000 deaths recorded in the city of Aleppo alone. Damaging aftershocks continued for nearly a year.
The epicentres of today’s earthquakes were on the Turkish side of the border, but for thousands of Syrians on the other side, this natural disaster compounds 12 years of suffering and civil war.
North-west Syria, the area affected, is home to both Syrian government forces and nearby rebel-held areas.
Following the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, Syrian forces have been pounding the rebel-held areas with help from the Russian air force.
Schools, clinics and hospitals have been damaged or destroyed and the persistent aerial bombing had already rendered many buildings unsafe, even before the earthquakes struck.
Carsten Hansen, the Middle East regional director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said: “This is a disaster that will worsen the suffering of Syrians already struggling with a severe humanitarian crisis. Millions have already been forced to flee by war in the wider region and now many more will be displaced by disaster.”
Compounding their misery is the winter weather which has brought torrential rain and even snow, further hampering rescue efforts.
For the affected residents of north-west Syria, the earthquakes are the latest in a series of devastating blows after years of war and the virtual collapse of medical infrastructure. Getting aid into these areas will be even harder than in Turkey.