Earthquake strikes Turkey-Syria border and wildfires in south-central Chile
Turkey: Powerful earthquake results in casualties, property damage
A 7.8 magnitude earthquake recorded near the town of Nurdagi, Gaziantep Province, in the early morning hours of Feb. 6 has resulted in thousands of casualties, widespread infrastructure and private property damage, as well as power and communications outages across central Turkey and northern Syria. The initial earthquake was followed by at least major 100 aftershocks (i.e., greater than 4.0 magnitude), including a 7.5 magnitude tremor in the Elbistan region of Kahramanmaras Province – 95 km (59 mi) north of the original earthquake – with minor shaking felt as far as Damascus, Beirut, Cairo, and Cyprus. According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the tremors killed at least 8,574 people and injured more than 49,000 others; casualty figures will almost certainly increase in the coming days as rescue efforts continue. The Syrian Health Ministry has reported 1,262 deaths and more than 22,085 injuries in government-controlled areas, in addition to 1,400 killed and 2,700 injured in rebel-held areas of northwest Syria; nearly 300,000 others have been displaced. Turkish officials assess that the earthquake destroyed at least 3,400 buildings and damaged 35,000 more, including private residences, religious facilities, historical sites, and hospitals. As of Feb. 8, the airport in Hatay remains closed due to runway damage, and Gaziantep Oğuzeli International Airport has restricted its operations to accommodate only rescue and humanitarian aid flights; operations at ports have been largely unaffected, with the exception of Iskenderun Port, where ship handling services are unavailable. President Erdogan has declared a three-month State of Emergency (SoE) in the 10 affected Turkish provinces, and over 70 countries and multiple humanitarian groups have provided aid and response personnel, including Germany, Spain, the UAE, the UK, and the UN World Health Organization. Aid and emergency response resources have been dispatched to impacted areas; however, damaged infrastructure, power outages, traffic congestion, and poor weather conditions are hampering relief efforts. Both Turkey and Syria experience frequent earthquakes due to their location in a highly active seismic zone along the East Anatolian Fault, although these are typically minor and cause little damage. Exceptions include another powerful earthquake that occurred in 1999, which killed over 17,000 people, injured more than 44,000 others, and caused significant infrastructure damage. The full extent of the economic impact of the Feb. 6 incident remains unclear, and rescue operations are ongoing in southern Turkey and northwestern Syria. Seismologists expect more aftershocks in the short term, which – coupled with severe winter weather – will likely further complicate recovery efforts and could lead to additional infrastructure damage.
Chile: Extreme weather fueling wildfires in south-central region
Strong winds coupled with dry weather and unseasonably high temperatures have sparked hundreds of wildfires in south-central Chile since Feb. 2, leading to casualties and causing significant damage to private property and agricultural land. According to the Chilean government, the fires have killed 24 people, injured more than 1,200 others, destroyed at least 1,180 homes, and displaced an estimated 3,000 residents. Damage to critical infrastructure has been reported in the worst impacted areas, including the destruction of medical facilities and disruption of water and electricity supply. The fires have also devastated more than 280,000 hectares (691,800 acres) of land, which will likely have a long-term impact on the agricultural and forestry sectors. However, the mining industry – one of the pillars of the Chilean economy – is currently unaffected, as mines are concentrated in northern Chile. The government has declared a State of Emergency (SoE) in the most affected regions of Araucanía, Biobío, Maule, and Ñuble, freeing up additional resources and mobilizing response personnel. Several foreign governments have provided staff and equipment in support of local firefighting efforts – Spain, Mexico, and Argentina have deployed firefighting brigades along with 70 planes and helicopters; additional personnel and material aid have been pledged by Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, and Venezuela. Authorities have not yet provided information as to the immediate cause of the fires, but reports suggest that extreme temperatures and years of drought have exacerbated the intensity of the disaster. The recent fires have burned more than 2,700 square kilometers (1,042 square miles) in total, making this the second-most destructive wildfire outbreak on record since January 2017, when thousands of wildfires burned over 5,700 square kilometers (2,200 square miles) and killed 11 people. The Chilean government reported on Feb. 8 that there were 311 active fires, 84 of which were being targeted by firefighting operations. Dry conditions fueling the fires are forecast to continue in the short term, indicating that additional casualties, infrastructure and private property damage, and disruptions in the utility sector are likely despite the efforts of fire crews.