Two earthquakes hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday. The impact killed at least 7,700 people, with rescue crews still searching through the rubble in freezing conditions, The New York Times reported.
The World Health Organization warned that the death toll could rise to 20,000, because an earthquake hit the region in 1999 at a similar magnitude and killed at least 17,000 people, according to The Guardian.
The initial quake registered at 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale and a second quake hit at 7.5 magnitude. Aftershocks continued to reverberate across the region for hours after.
How many buildings were destroyed by Turkey earthquake?
More than 6,000 buildings have been destroyed, and nearly 25,000 rescue personnel deployed to search for survivors, per CNBC. Some volunteers “are using their bare hands to find survivors,” the United Nations Volunteers program tweeted.
Affected areas of Turkey have millions of Syrian refugees
Much of the area in Syria was already devastated from years of civil war. Large areas in Turkey were host to more than 4.1 million Syrian refugees displaced from the war.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed fears of a humanitarian crisis and “announced a state of emergency for three months in the 10 regions hit,” The Washington Post reported.
“Turkey and Syria need all the help they can get,” said Mark Lowcock, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development and former United Nations relief chief, per CBS News. “The most vulnerable may be those in Syria in places not controlled by the government: help via Turkey may be needed for them, and diplomatic efforts are necessary to achieve that.”
At least 70 countries have offered aid for search and rescue operations, per CNN.
Many experts are saying it’s the most powerful quake to hit the region in 100 years. The region is particularly susceptible to earthquakes — it is known as the East Anatolian fault zone and is a highly populated area, according to The Associated Press.
“This is the most powerful earthquake to hit the region in almost 100 years and came at the worst possible time for vulnerable children and families in the affected areas,” James Elder, UNICEF spokesperson, said in a press briefing, per CNN.