Gabriel Gavin is reporting from Istanbul.

More than a thousand people are believed to have died and many more are injured after one of the strongest earthquakes on record hit southern Turkey and parts of northern Syria in the early hours of Monday morning, levelling entire neighbourhoods and sending rescue workers racing to free those trapped under the rubble.

The epicentre is believed to be close to the Turkish city of Gaziantep, where videos shared on social media show scenes of total devastation – collapsed buildings and shattered streets lit up only by the glow of sirens and emergency searchlights. The historic Gaziantep Castle, which has stood for more than 2,000 years, partially collapsed amid the tremors, which came in at a magnitude of 7.8, putting the earthquake among the top 20 worst seismic events in recorded history.

However, the effects have been felt far further afield and 912 people have already been reported dead across seven provinces of southern and eastern Turkey. In nearby Syria, authorities report 237 fatalities, but estimates are complicated by the fact that the government of Bashar al-Assad has only a patchy hold on the area, where Turkish-backed rebels and Kurdish fighters have been battling for control since the start of the Civil War in 2011.

Likewise, the affected region of southern Turkey includes a number of majority-Kurdish cities, such as Diyarbekir, where security forces have clashed with both ISIS and members of banned separatist groups in recent years. In 2016, much of the Sur district of Diyarbekir was leveled as the proscribed Kurdistan Workers’ Party fought running skirmishes with the police, and rebuilding efforts had been ongoing. There have long been concerns around construction standards, given the proximity to a nearby seismic fault line. Footage from the scene on Monday, however, shows residential buildings collapsing and critical infrastructure destroyed.

The carnage wrought by the earthquake across the area, much of which has already been battered by conflict in recent years, has sparked fears of another humanitarian crisis. Worse still, the area has been facing heavy rains, snowfall and strong winds, further hindering efforts to house and shelter those affected. “Most people are sheltering outside for more than six hours now in zero degrees and permanent rain,” Sven Gerst, a German national living in the city of Gaziantep says, sharing a picture of a group huddling around a fire on a snow-lined street. “Buildings have visible damage and remain unsafe to enter.”

“We woke up at 4.17am because the shaking was so intense,” he tells Reaction. “I’ve experienced many earthquakes before, but this was different – it was like being in an airplane that’s going through turbulence. We had sixty seconds of tremors, but it felt like an eternity – you heard things falling in the kitchen, glasses smashing, people screaming. Then, afterwards, there was no information on where to go, where to gather. Ultimately people just got in their cars and drove as far as they could because their homes aren’t safe.”

A number of foreign heads of state have offered their condolences and pledged to provide assistance to Turkey if requested. “My thoughts are with the people of Türkiye and Syria this morning, particularly with those first responders working so valiantly to save those trapped by the earthquake,” said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“We are watching with dismay,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement. “The death toll keeps rising. We mourn with the relatives and fear for those buried. Germany will of course send help.”

Responding to the news, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that the earthquake was the worst since 1939, when a similar size event killed almost 33,000 around the city of Erzincan. “Search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched to the areas affected. Our Ministry of Interior and Health, local governors and all other institutions started their work rapidly. We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage possible.”

Now though, experts are warning that aftershocks and even secondary quakes could be on the cards. “We are facing the biggest earthquake we have seen in 24 years in this region. So far, 100 aftershocks have occurred. 53 of them are greater than magnitude four. Seven of them are above magnitude five. We know these earthquakes will continue in the coming days.”