Pope grieving for victims of quakes in Turkey and Syria

Pope Francis is saddened by the huge loss of life caused by earthquakes in Turkey and in Syria. His words of closeness and assurances of prayers came in telegrams sent to the apostolic nuncios of the countries.

By Linda Bordoni and Nathan Morley

Pope Francis says he is deeply saddened to learn of the huge loss of life caused by a powerful earthquake that has struck south-eastern Turkey and north-western Syria.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked wide swaths of the neighbouring countries early Monday morning toppling hundreds of buildings and killing thousands of people.

Hundreds are still believed to be trapped under the rubble and the death toll is expected to rise as rescue workers search mounts of wreckage in cities and towns across the area.

In two separate telegrams signed on his behalf by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope offered words of condolence and asked the apostolic nuncios, Marek Solczynski in Turkey, and Mario Zenari in Syria, to send his assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected.

The Pope entrusted “those who died to the loving mercy of the Almighty” and sent his “heartfelt condolences to those who mourn their loss.”

Likewise, he said he “prays that the emergency personnel will be sustained in their care of the injured and in the ongoing relief efforts by the divine gifts of fortitude and perseverance.”

The Pope also expressed a “renewed sign of his spiritual solidarity” for the “long-suffering Syrian people.”

A Syrian man carries the body of an infant killed in the quake

A Syrian man carries the body of an infant killed in the quake

The epicenter of the earthquake – which struck at 04:17 local time – was located near Gaziantep, an important industrial and manufacturing district close to the Turkey-Syria border.

Turkey – which sits on the East Anatolian fault – is in one of the world’s most volatile earthquake zones.

Speaking to the media, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that at least 2,800 buildings had collapsed. To make matters worse, a second earthquake struck in south-eastern Turkey on Monday lunchtime with its epicentre around 80 miles from Gaziantep.

Meanwhile, officials in Syria said at least 320 people were killed in the government-controlled areas, while rescue workers said at least 100 others died in rebel-controlled districts.

The European Union is sending rescue teams to the region, along with assistance promised from Britain, Israel, Sweden, France, and Germany. Neighbouring Greece is also mobilizing its resources.

Just five months ago, a magnitude-7.0 quake hit the Aegean Sea, killing 116 people and wounding more than 1,000.

Rescue workers and volunteers in the rubble of a collapsed building in Diyarbakir in south-east Turkey