Media coverage of the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

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Harrowing video and excellent explanatory journalism helped the world try to comprehend the earthquakes and aftershocks

Tom Jones | Poynter

The numbers are almost impossible to comprehend.

More than 3,500 people, as of Monday evening, have died from the massive earthquakes and aftershocks that struck Turkey and Syria. Two earthquakes measuring 7.8 and 7.5 were followed by aftershocks in frigid winter weather. The impact could be felt as far away as Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Egypt.

Here is a harrowing video of one of the aftershocks and its aftermath caught on live TV.:

The sound alone is frightening. According to Reuters, the reporter in the video, Yuksel Akalan, said, “As we were heading to the rubble to (film) search and rescue efforts, there were two consecutive aftershocks with a loud noise, and the building you are seeing on my left was brought down to earth. There was a lot of dust. A local resident is coming and he is covered in dust.”

Akalan then met a woman running from the other direction with her children. He lifted the woman’s daughter and then tried to calm her.

The video is just a snapshot of the nightmare.

There are reports of nearly 80 aftershocks, and many of those fortunate enough to survive are left sleeping outside in freezing temperatures.

Khalil Ashawi, a photojournalist based in Syria, told CNN, “It’s a disaster. Paramedics and firefighters are trying to help, but unfortunately, there is too much for them to deal with. They can’t handle it all. Entire families have been killed. Seven to eight people from the same family, all gone. These are the sort of situations I am seeing and hearing about today. It is freezing at the moment, and there are so many people sleeping in the streets right now because they have no homes to go to.

Why was this quake so deadly?

The Washington Post’s Carolyn Y. Johnson wrote, “The grim death toll is a result of several factors: the sheer size of the quake; the fact that it struck relatively close to the surface; and its proximity to where people live. Monday’s quake originated just about 11 miles below the surface. That means the seismic waves did not have to travel far before they reached buildings and people on the surface, leading to more intense shaking.”

Johnson’s story goes into exceptional detail about why this earthquake was so destructive. It’s an example of some of the excellent explanatory journalism that helped us better understand what happened.

The Wall Street Journal’s Eric Niiler and Nidhi Subbaraman write, “How the Turkey-Syria Earthquake Occurred: Behind the Science of the Catastrophe.”

The Associated Press’ Mehmet Guzel, Ghaith Alsayed and Suzan Fraser — reporting from Adana, Turkey — noted, “The quake piled more misery on a region that has seen tremendous suffering over the past decade. On the Syrian side, the area is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey, meanwhile, is home to millions of refugees from the civil war.”

They added, “In the rebel-held enclave, hundreds of families remained trapped in rubble, the opposition emergency organization known as the White Helmets said in a statement. The area is packed with some 4 million people displaced from other parts of the country by the war. Many of them live in buildings that are already wrecked from past bombardments.”

More superb work

Check out this impressive visual journalism in The New York Times from Pablo Robles, Agnes Chang, Josh Holder and Lauren Leatherby.

The piece shows detailed maps of the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria. In addition, there are haunting before and after photos of areas badly damaged by the earthquake. For example, one photo shows the immaculate Yeni Mosque in June 2020. Then next to it, the Yeni Mosque today, looking like a crumpled sand castle on a dirty, dusty beach.

Also, the Times has “After the Quake: Photos From Turkey and Syria.”

Both pieces are powerful journalism that show the impact of this devastating disaster.

So is this piece from The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor, Joe Snell, Olivier Laurent and Lauren Tierney: “Maps, photos and videos show earthquake’s widespread destruction.”

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