Feb. 6 (UPI) — More than 1,000 people were reported dead in Turkey and Syria Monday as emergency crews scrambled to find survivors in collapsed buildings following a pair of powerful earthquakes.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 912 people had been killed by the initial 7.8-magnitude earthquake, believed to be the strongest in decades. Officials in northern Syria, an area ravaged by years of civil war, said 320 have died and more than 1,000 injured, per state officials.
The humanitarian organization Syria Civil Defense, better known as the White Helmets, said on Twitter that it has confirmed 221 deaths in the northwestern region of the country it works out of, along with 419 injured.
The organization said hundreds of families remain trapped under rubble and they expect those numbers to change as work to free them continue and the area needs heavy rescue equipment. The White Helmets said their totals are likely not included in the total given by the Syrian government.
Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Agency said a second 7.6-magnitude quake struck at 1:24 p.m. local time. The U.S. Geological Survey measured the magnitude at 7.5.
The initial temblor hit at 4:17 a.m. local time near the city of Gaziantep and Turkey’s southern border with Syria, the USGS said, warning “high casualties and extensive damage are probably and the disaster is likely widespread.”
The initial strike was followed by more than 40 aftershocks, with the USGS rating the most powerful at a magnitude of 6.7.
The USGS estimates that there is a 47% chance the death toll could reach as high as 10,000 and economic losses could be as much as 2% of Turkey’s GDP.
The earthquake’s epicenter was the Pazarcik district of Kahramanmaras Province, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Agency said, with provinces being impacted hundreds of miles away.
Hatay, Adana, Osmaniye, Diyarbakir, Malatya and Sanliurfa were among those it said felt the earthquake “intensely.”
Gov. Salih Ayhan of Sanliurfa Province tweeted that buildings were destroyed by the “severe and long-lasting” earthquake. In Malatya, the government reported “serious destruction” in its capital city.
In Gaziantep Province, Gov. Davut Gul tweeted that the earthquake was “severely” felt in the provincial capital.
“Please, let’s wait without panicking,” he urged via Twitter. “Let’s not use our cars. Let’s leave the main roads empty. Let’s not keep the phones busy.”
The Disaster and Emergency Management Agency said the country has called upon Europe’s Emergency Response Coordination Center for help with urban search and rescue.
Istanbul Gov. Ali Yerlikaya announced that nearly 1,000 search and rescue personnel will be dispatched from Turkey’s largest city to affected regions, with the first group having already departed.
Erdogan told the public all relevant authorities have been put on alert and search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched to affected regions.
“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage,” he tweeted.
Additional blood supplies were also being shipped by the Turkish Red Cross to affected regions, with citizens countrywide being encouraged to donate plasma for “needs that may occur in the future,” the organization’s head, Kerem Kinik, said.
Meanwhile, the ministry of education has suspended higher education in 10 provinces affected by the earthquake until further notice.
In nearby Syria, the White Helmets reported earlier that several residential buildings in the country’s north near the Turkey border had collapsed.
A state of emergency has been declared to aid in the rescuing of those stranded, it said in a statement.
The volunteer organization has called on residents to evacuate buildings and seek open spaces.
“Disastrous conditions, collapses in residential buildings and the presence of victims trapped under the rubble,” it said. “Our teams are on the highest levels of alert to respond and rescue the trapped.”
Hospitals were overwhelmed with patients filling hallways, the Syrian American Medical Society said, saying many of its facilities were full.
“There is an immediate need for trauma supplies and a comprehensive emergency response to save lives and treat the injured,” it said in a statement.
Some hospitals, including Al Dana Hospital were forced to evacuate after being damaged by the temblor.
President Bashar Al-Assad has called an emergency meeting of council minsters to evaluate the extent of the damage, his office said in a statement.
The earthquake occurred amid a protracted civil war Syria, and the civil defense group has called on the international community in a statement to “shoulder its responsibilities” and prevent the situation from worsening by supporting rescue efforts and “putting pressure on the Assad regime and its Russian ally in a way the ensures that there is no bombing in these areas.”
In Washington, D.C., U.S. President Joe Biden directed the U.S. Agency for International Development and other federal partners to assess the White House’s response to aid those affected.
“The United States is profoundly concerned by the reports of today’s destructive earthquake in Turkey and Syria,” White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “We will continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with the government of Turkey.”
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant said he’s ordered the Israel Defense Forces and his office to “prepare immediately” to provide Turkey with emergency aid through its Home Front Command.
Netherlands will also send an urban search and rescue team, including police, military personnel, first aid responders and firefighters, the Nordic nation’s foreign minister, Wopke Hoekstra, said on Twitter.
Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said Berlin was standing ready to provide assistance.
Italy is also warning of a possible tsunami for its coastal areas, urging residents to move to higher ground.