The World Health Organization warned that more than 20,000 people may die following a devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, as freezing temperatures and winter weather continue to hinder rescue efforts.
Catherine Smallwood, the WHO’s European senior emergency officer, told AFP on Monday night the death toll could see an “order of eightfold increases on the initial numbers,” per The Guardian. This statement was reportedly made when the death toll was 2,600, meaning the total deaths from the disaster would be around 20,800 if this estimation holds true.
Smallwood noted that the same thing is almost always seen during earthquakes, that being “the initial reports of the numbers of people who have died or who have been injured will increase quite significantly in the week that follows.”
The Associated Press reported that more than 5,000 have already died, with all evidence pointing to that number continuing to skyrocket. This is especially true as the region grapples with freezing temperatures that are putting a damper on rescuers and presenting a significant risk to anyone trapped in the rubble.
“Everywhere there is snow or rain, and it’s very cold…the weather conditions and the climate is making it very difficult for the rescue workers and civilians,” Turkish correspondent Sinem Koseoglu reported for Al Jazeera, adding that the weather seemed to be the “biggest challenge for everyone.”
The initial 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked south-central Turkey near the Syrian border, and could reportedly be felt in Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, and Cyprus. There have been hundreds of aftershocks reported, at least one of them registering as a 7.5-magnitude.
Hundreds of buildings have been destroyed, and some “as large as 12 stories high are now flattened,” BBC News reported, adding that “roads have been destroyed and there are huge mountains of rubble as far as the eye can see.”