A major earthquake killed dozens and injured hundreds Syria early on Monday, a senior health official said, as homes and historic buildings in north and west came crashing down.
Deputy health minister Ahmad Damirieh told state television that at least 230 people were killed and more than 600 injured in the Syrian regions of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartous.
Across Syria’s affected areas, buildings have already been severely damaged and left structurally unsound by nearly 12 years of heavy bombardment.
“Until now, paramedic teams and fire rescue teams, as well as the Red Crescent, are doubling their efforts to save those affected and those stuck under the rubble,” said Damirieh.
President Bashar al-Assad was holding an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the next steps, his office said.
State television showed footage of rescue teams in heavy rain and sleet searching for survivors. Health officials advised people to stay outside and were asking the public to help take injured people to emergency rooms.
“All public and private hospitals are on alert. Wounded people are still arriving in waves,” Aleppo’s health director, Ziad Hage Taha, told Reuters by telephone.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in Aleppo posted photographs of blocks of stone that had crashed down onto its mezzanine.
In a part of the Aleppo countryside controlled by rebel groups, members of the Syrian civil defence known as the White Helmets could be seen carrying a bloodied, wailing baby out of a collapsed building.
Another group carried a body wrapped in a white sheet as a crane pulled away slabs of concrete in the town of Azaz, a Reuters witness said.
Cinderblocks had dropped from multi-storey buildings in a marketplace and smashed into a silver van.
In an online statement, the White Helmets declared a state of emergency in the opposition-held northwest where they operate, saying stormy weather was compounding the problem.
The group said it had no toll of dead and injured but estimated that dozens had been killed.