Search and rescue personnel from around the world are racing against the clock to reach survivors of the worst disaster to hit Turkey since 1939.
The death toll in the series of earthquakes that struck 10 provinces in Turkey and at least five more in Syria, had topped 6,300 by Tuesday night.
Fourth Earthquake Strikes Turkey
A fourth earthquake struck the temblor-torn areas of southeastern Turkey on Tuesday, barely 24 hours after a massive 7.8-magnitude quake rocked the area.
A second earthquake of 7.7-magnitude strength struck the area a few kilometers to the north less than nine hours later; a third earthquake of 6.0-magnitude strength struck a few hours after that.
A fourth, 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck the same area about 24 hours later, followed by an aftershock nearly as strong.
All told, more than 240 aftershocks have continued to rock the region, many of them stronger than 4.5-magnitude on the Richter scale.
The destruction is indescribable.
WHO Warns Death Toll Could Reach 20,000
As of 9 pm local time Tuesday, the death toll in Turkey and Syria had exceeded 6,300, with thousands of children feared to be among the dead and more than 21,000 others injured.
Officials at the World Health Organization warned Tuesday morning that the death toll could eventually top 20,000.
Millions Affected by the Quakes
Some 13.5 million people were affected by the earthquakes in Turkey alone, in an area spanning about 280 miles (450 kilometers) from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east, and 190 miles (300 kilometers) from Malatya in the north to Hatay in the south.
Syrian authorities said fatalities were reported as far south as Hama, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) from the epicenter of the main quake.
Tens of thousands have been left homeless in both countries; others were left with damaged homes and some without electricity or fuel in the freezing rain and snow.
According to Orhan Tatar, an official with Turkey’s disaster management authority who spoke with USA Today, at least 7,840 people have been rescued across the 10 stricken provinces; 5,606 buildings have collapsed.
At least 224 buildings in northwestern Syria were destroyed and another 325 buildings were damaged, according to United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric. Among the destroyed buildings were those being use as UN aid warehouses where 2.7 million were receiving assistance each month via cross-border deliveries.
Worst Disaster Since 1939
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for the next three months in the 10 provinces affected by the quakes, declaring them disaster zones.
Erdogan also declared seven days of national mourning, and the country’s flags were ordered to fly at half-staff. NATO member states lowered their flags to half-staff at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels to express their solidarity with the stricken country.
The Turkish leader said the quake was his country’s biggest disaster since the 1939 Erzincan earthquake, in which more than 30,000 people were killed.
He added that more than 9,000 search and rescue personnel have been working to help find survivors in the earthquake wreckage, and more support is on the way from elsewhere.
“We have started to be contacted for international aid,” Erdogan said. “Besides offers of assistance from NATO and the European Union, 45 countries have reached out to us.”
Race Against Time
Thousands of rescuers from around the world have been working frantically to reach survivors under the rubble before the harsh winter weather accomplishes what may not have been done by the earthquakes.
“It’s now a race against time,” World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva. “Every minute, every hour that passes, the chances of finding survivors alive diminishes.”
Searchers are using radar and body heat sensors to find survivors, but the problem is the widespread destruction: the rescuers simply cannot be everywhere at once.
Israeli, UAE Teams Join Others in Rescue Efforts
Among the first to arrive, Israel has sent more than 100 search and rescue, medical and other expert personnel to Turkey, including teams from the IDF Home Front Command, IsraAID, Magen David Adom (MDA) and United Hatzalah.
The United Arab Emirates is among those who have sent a search and rescue team to help, in addition to establishing a field hospital for those affected by the quakes.
The UAE also sent a search and rescue team along with relief supplies and emergency aid to Syria.
The State of Israel sent medical supplies and humanitarian aid to Syria as well.