The toll is getting heavier hour by hour.
Two earthquakes of magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 hit southeastern Turkey and neighboring Syria overnight and in the morning on Monday.
Entire regions have been ravaged.
By the end of the day, authorities in both countries were reporting more than 2,300 dead and thousands injured – and the numbers are expected to rise.
It is the most violent earthquake since that of Izmit, on August 17, 1999. Also occurring in the middle of the night, it had caused more than 17,000 deaths.
On Monday, the first earthquake struck in the district of Pazarcik, north of Gaziantep, near Syria, at 4:17 a.m. local time.
“But it is not in the middle of the night that we have the best reactions to a disaster”, underlines with the Parisian Jean Virieux, seismologist and professor emeritus at the University of Grenoble-Alpes.
It's not easy, when you emerge from a deep sleep, to immediately think of "protecting yourself and your family by putting yourself in the corners of the rooms," says the specialist.
The geographical location of the first earthquake, in Gaziantep, a city of two million inhabitants, also contributed to increasing its dangerousness.
The region has indeed experienced "strong economic and demographic development" over the past thirty years, recalls Jean Virieux.
After the first tremors, many buildings collapsed, trapping residents under the rubble.
"It's not earthquakes that kill, it's buildings that collapse," insists the professor emeritus.
Seismic rules not respected
Anti-seismic construction rules, which allow buildings to limit the risk of collapse, do however exist in Turkey.
“Turkish engineers are very competent, particularly because of the frequency of earthquakes in the country.
But the application of these rules is not controlled”, explains Jean Virieux, who affirms that the impact would have been less in Japan or California, also subject to seismic risk.
“Development is less organized in Turkey than in the United States or Japan.
If zero risk does not exist anywhere, the impact can nevertheless be greatly reduced.
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The consequences of Monday's earthquake were also amplified by the very nature of the earthquake, which was near the surface.
This is a so-called "stripping" fault, that is to say that the two separate blocks slide horizontally relative to each other.
But “buildings are very sensitive to these horizontal vibrations,” adds the specialist.
Faced with the extent of the damage, the emergency services are overwhelmed.
Turkey and Syria have appealed for international assistance.
Teams from the European Union, including France, immediately mobilized and similar announcements came from the United Kingdom, India and Azerbaijan.