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ANKARA: At least 912 people were killed and more than 5,000 injured when a magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck southern Turkey overnight, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, calling it a historic disaster for which the death toll is likely to rise.

The quake was centred on the province of Kahramanmaras and shook southern Turkey and northern Syria overnight. It was followed by another powerful tremor with a 7.7 magnitude in the same region at around 1025 GMT.

Major earthquake hits Turkey, Syria; hundreds dead, many trapped

Erdogan said 2,818 buildings collapsed after the first tremor, describing it as the country’s “largest disaster” since 1939, when a major quake struck the eastern province of Erzincan.

In 1999, a tremor of similar magnitude devastated Izmit and the heavily populated eastern Marmara Sea region near Istanbul, killing more than 17,000.

“Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts, although the winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night make things more difficult,” he told reporters in a news conference at Turkey’s disaster coordination centre in Ankara.

“We do not know how high the casualty numbers will go as efforts to lift the debris continue in several buildings in the earthquake zone,” he said.

Some 9,000 personnel were taking part in the rescue operations, he said. Offers off assistance have been made by NATO, the European Union and 45 countries, he added.

Erdogan said 5,385 people had been injured in the quake as rescue operations continued, with 2,470 people rescued from the ruins of buildings.

“Today is a day for 85 million to be together as one heart,” he said.

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