Rescuers pull a child out of the rubble after an earthquake in Idlib, Syria on Monday. Photo courtesy of Syria Civil Defense | License Photo
Feb. 6 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden is offering Turkey "any and all needed assistance" from the United States after a powerful earthquake, and a second temblor that was nearly as strong, hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday, killing more than 4,000 and injuring nearly 16,000.
Thousands of rescuers are working through the night to search for survivors as the death toll is expected to rise.
Biden was among the world leaders Monday who offered help and expressed condolences to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Biden promised Erdogan U.S. teams would deploy quickly to help Turkish search and rescue crews, as well as provide health services and relief items.
Turkey's president is calling it the worst disaster since the Erzincan quake, which killed 32,968 people and injured 100,000 in 1939, and declared a period of mourning until sunset Sunday.
Monday's initial earthquake registered at 7.8-magnitude at a depth of 11 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake that happened in the Pazarcik district affected Kahramanmar, along with Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Diyarbakir, Adana, Adiyaman, Malatya, Osmaniye, Hatay and Kilis.
A second tremor, which officials said was "not an aftershock," measured at 7.5 magnitude and was located 2.5 miles south-southeast of Ekinozu.
The death toll in Turkey has risen to 2,921 with nearly 16,000 injured, state-run Anadolu news agency reported late Sunday, citing the country's disaster agency. The latest numbers in Syria stand at 1,444 people dead. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed, with more than 2,500 people rescued from under the debris since rescuers started searching.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the two earthquakes could cause as many as 10,000 deaths and $1 billion in economic losses.
"It's difficult to watch this tragedy unfold, especially since we've known for a long time about how poorly the buildings in the region tend to behave in earthquakes," USGS scientist David Wald said Monday. "An earthquake this size has the potential to be damaging anywhere in the world, but many structures in this region are particularly vulnerable."
Syria has suffered through more than a decade of civil war in the region, which made confirming casualties more challenging in that country.
UNICEF, which is working in Turkey on rescue efforts and in Syria with damage assessment, said the situation is further impacted by recent heavy winter storms and sub-zero temperatures.
The Disaster and Emergency Management Agency in Turkey said there have been 183 aftershocks since the original earthquakes, with more than 5,600 buildings destroyed as of late Monday.
Nearly 10,000 search and rescue personnel have been deployed to find survivors, with 73 countries responding to Turkey's call for aid, it said.
In Washington, Biden has 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 adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. "We will continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with the government of Turkey."
Biden said he has authorized an "immediate U.S. response" to the earthquake and has authorized his administration to reach out to their counterparts in Turkey to coordinate search and rescue efforts.
"Our teams are deploying quickly to begin to support Turkish search and rescue efforts and address the needs of those injured and displaced by the earthquake," Biden said in a White House statement.
"U.S.-supported humanitarian partners are also responding to the destruction in Syria. Today, our hearts and our deepest condolences are with all those who have lost precious loved ones, those who are injured, and those who saw their homes and businesses destroyed."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken shared his condolences and guaranteed a committed effort to assist in the tragedy.
"Our initial assistance response to Turkey is already underway, and U.S.-supported humanitarian organizations in Syria are responding to the earthquakes' effects across the country," Blinken said in his statement. "We are determined to do all that we can to help those affected by these earthquakes in the days, weeks and months ahead."
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also promised a response from his organization.
"I am deeply saddened by the news of the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria and offer my heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims," Guterres said on Twitter. "The U.N. stands ready to support emergency response efforts."
The humanitarian organization Syria Civil Defense, better known as the White Helmets, has worked to confirm deaths in areas that the Syrian government does not control and has called for heavy rescue equipment.
Provinces hundreds of miles from the epicenter were impacted.
Gov. Salih Ayhan of Turkey's 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 said 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, and in response the European Council activated its political crisis mechanism to coordinate EU support measures.
In Syria, local 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 quake.
Doctors without Borders said teams working in northwestern Syria hav mobilized to respond to the increasing need, donating emergency supplies and support to 23 health facilities across Idlib and Aleppo governorates but much more is heeded.
"Health facilities are impacted and overwhelmed, and medical personnel in northern Syria [are] working around the clock to respond to the huge numbers of wounded arriving to the facilities," Sebastien Gay, head of the organization's Syria mission, said in a statement.
"The needs are very high in northwestern Syria as this [earthquake] adds a dramatic layer for vulnerable [people] who are still struggling after many years of war. The massive consequences of this disaster will require a [scaled up] international aid effort."
Syrian 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 civil defense group has called on the international community in a statement to "shoulder its responsibilities" amid the civil war in Syria 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."
Britain announced it is sending 76 search and rescue specialists as well as a emergency medical team to Turkey and is in contact with the United Nations on emergency humanitarian support in Syria.
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.
The Netherlands will also send an urban search-and-rescue team, including police, military personnel, first aid responders and firefighters, foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra said on Twitter.
Germany's foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said Berlin was standing ready to provide assistance.
Italy had also issued a warning of a possible tsunami for its coastal areas, urging residents to move to higher ground, that has since been revoked.