The provisional joint death toll in Syria and Turkey following two earthquakes, the heaviest to hit the region in nearly a century, has exceeded 5,000 and continues to rise. The World Health Organisation (WHO) fears that up to 20,000 people have lost their lives.
One massive 7.8 earthquake hit Turkey and Syria on Monday at 04:17 local time (02:17 Belgian time), which less than 12 hours later was followed by another 7.5-magnitude earthquake that hit the southeast of Turkey.
In Turkey, the quakes killed over 3,400 people and injured at least 20,426, the country's state-run disaster management agency AFAD reported on Tuesday morning. A total of 5,775 buildings have collapsed so far, and many people are still trapped under the rubble, raising the prospect of even higher death tolls.
"Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts, although the winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night make things more difficult," Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in a news conference at Turkey's disaster coordination centre in Ankara earlier on Monday.
Since the two earthquakes on Monday morning, Turkey has also been hit by about 30 strong aftershocks, according to figures from the Turkish Disaster Relief Agency AFAD. In total, hundreds of tremors took place until Tuesday morning, 30 of which had magnitudes above 5.
Situation in Syria
The provisional death toll from Monday's earthquake in Syria, of which the epicentre is in neighbouring Turkey, continued to rise during the day, now standing at 810, according to new figures from the Syrian health ministry and rescue workers in rebel areas.
Some 1,509 people have been confirmed dead so far and more than 1,300 injured in the regime-controlled provinces of Aleppo (the country's second-largest city), Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, Hama in the centre of the country and Tartus.
The Syrian education ministry has announced the closure of schools in all areas controlled by the government until the end of the week.
Meanwhile, in the areas controlled by jihadist and rebel factions, White Helmets rescue workers reported 380 dead and more than a thousand injured, adding that the death toll was likely to rise as "hundreds of families are under the rubble." The group added that teams were facing "great difficulties," and called for "heavy rescue equipment."
The earthquakes were so massive that the Royal Observatory of Belgium recorded earthquake tremors at its Uccle monitoring station. Several of the aftershocks were also recorded.
"But it is not the case that people in our country have felt the quakes," Koen Van Noten of the Royal Observatory told Belga News Agency. "The quake was felt between 200 and 300 kilometres from the epicentre. The vibrations were only picked up by our gauges."
Belgium is looking to offer aid to Turkey, Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said on Monday, without yet detailing the nature of the possible assistance. "Belgium is closely monitoring the situation. We are in solidarity with the population in Turkey and are ready to offer our help."
Additionally, about 200 Belgians are registered in the Turkish border region that was hit, according to the FPS Foreign Affairs, which is in permanent contact with the local authorities and has asked all non-registered Belgians who are in the region to report themselves.
This article is being updated as more information emerges. The latest update was made at 12:30 on Tuesday.