The toll from two earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria on Monday – two weeks after powerful quakes killed more than 47,000 people – has risen to eight, with up to 300 recovering from injuries and up to a dozen buildings toppling on both sides of the border.
The widespread anxiety and panic sparked by the latest tremors has rattled a region that is still coming to terms with the devastation caused earlier this month.
The seismic activity was felt in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, where schools and public services were closed on Tuesday, partly to calm people’s nerves.
Millions of people who fled ruined cities across southern Turkey and northern Syria, which were both shaken violently by the two tremors on Monday evening, now fear for their lives in temporary shelters.
The first 6.3-magnitude quake struck near the Turkish city of Antakya, which was all but destroyed by the 6 February quake and is largely uninhabitable. The second hit near the Mediterranean coast, reverberating deep into the Levant and underscoring the geological impact of one of the century’s biggest earthquakes.
Most of the injuries were caused by people jumping from structures, or falling as they fled over rubble and walls. With much of the earthquake zone already in ruins, and few people remaining in hardest-hit areas, casualty figures were relatively low.
In southern Turkey’s disaster zone, two weeks of quakes and aftershocks have scythed a haphazard path, destroying some communities while seemingly sparing others.
Two weeks on, the seismology of the massive quake’s spread is now mostly understood, but how some population centres near the epicentres avoided the worst damage is an increasing focus of regulators and politicians who face a groundswell of anger from some survivors who claim the disaster stemmed as much from human failings as it did from nature.
Two main hubs in southern Turkey – Antakya and Gaziantep – have been cited as cases in point, with the near annihilation of the former contrasted by locals to the nearly intact state of the latter.
In the Kurdish city of Adıyaman, large rows of flats collapsed like houses of cards, leaving much of the urban landscape in piled heaps. The city is uninhabitable, along with nearby Antakya and Kahramanmaraş.
In advance of an election that could be held as early as May, the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, faces growing pressure to explain how so many buildings so easily collapsed, entombing tens of thousands of people who had been sleeping when the first quake struck at 4.17am.
In the aftermath, a spotlight has been cast on the widespread provision of homes that did not meet earthquake standards, with increasing calls for construction standards to be enhanced in Turkey and developing countries around the world.
There are fresh calls for authorities to guarantee safe housing as a human right. “Safe housing is in principle already a human right enshrined in various UN treaties,” said Sara Pantuliano, the chief executive of the global affairs thinktank ODI. “But the evidence of the recent catastrophic earthquakes in Turkey and Syria shows only too well that the principle is not the practice. As we’ve seen, unsafe housing means a natural hazard like an earthquake becomes a large-scale tragedy, when this could have been at least partially averted.”