Turkey is reeling after a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the southeastern portion of the country.
Syria, Turkey’s neighbor to the south that has been plagued by civil war for over a decade, was also affected.
The earthquake destroyed 5,606 buildings and killed more than 3,000 people in both countries, according to Turkish news outlet TRT World. The death toll, currently estimated at 600, is expected to increase as rescue efforts continue. Nearly a dozen cities in Turkey were affected and have a combined total of 13.5 million residents.
The seismic event came shortly before dawn on Monday, and its epicenter was in the Turkish town Pazarcik, 20 miles from the Kahramanmaras province capital city of Gaziantep.
The earthquake was recorded as 11 miles deep, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The shaking was said to be felt as far as Cairo and sent Syrian residents in Damascus rushing into the street, NBC 5 reported. Tsunami warnings were also triggered in the Mediterranean, stretching from Greece to Italy.
Buildings and infrastructure were further tested in the affected area by powerful aftershocks that followed the quake, TRT World reported. There have been as many as 185, with one measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, nearly as strong as the original quake.
Turkey and Syria have both declared a state of emergency.
“Because the debris removal efforts are continuing in many buildings in the earthquake zone, we do not know how high the number of dead and injured will rise,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Hopefully, we will leave these disastrous days behind us in unity and solidarity as a country and a nation.”
An “air aid corridor” has been created by the Turkish Armed Forces to deliver search and rescue teams to the region, according to TRT World.
The disaster has been met with several promises of support from abroad.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Turkish counterpart, saying that the U.S. is “determined to provide any and all assistance following devastating earthquakes.”
According to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, the U.S. will deploy two urban search and rescue teams of 79 people to aid Turkey.
Vladimir Putin also offered support, saying that Russia would “provide the necessary assistance in dealing with the aftermath of this natural disaster.”
Dozens of countries from NATO and the European Union have also offered funds and manpower. Turkey is a NATO member and has sought approval to join the European Union, though its accession has long been stalled.
Turkey is now home to millions of refugees from the conflict in Syria. On the Syrian side of the border, the area affected by the earthquake includes territories held by the government and the opposition, surrounded by Russian-backed troops, PBS reported.
Due to the ongoing strife there, many of the buildings and infrastructure were run-down and had already suffered bombardments. This has exacerbated the dangerous situation.
According to a statement from the White Helmets, a volunteer organization led by the opposition, hundreds of families are currently trapped in the wreckage, and local emergency medical services are being quickly overwhelmed.
Likewise, Turkey is facing hardships in the aftermath of the quake as Turkish residents have been fleeing the affected regions, causing traffic jams and making emergency rescue teams’ efforts to reach affected areas even more challenging. Dropping temperatures have also posed a threat to those left without homes, with many mosques opening their doors to provide shelter.
Cold temperatures and the complicated nature of a region plagued by civil war will only make the rescue efforts even more demanding, Dr. Steven Godby, a natural disaster expert at Nottingham Trent University, told PBS.
President Erdogan has announced seven days of national mourning, with Turkish flags hung at half-staff.