Ruins after earthquake hits Turkey
Ruins after earthquake hits TurkeyREUTERS

The death toll in Syria and Turkey following a devastating earthquake before dawn Monday morning could top 20,000, officials from the World Health Organization warned Tuesday morning.

Thus far, over 5,000 fatalities have been confirmed in both countries, as search and rescue teams continue to pull bodies from the ruins of buildings toppled by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake and its aftershocks.

More than 240 aftershocks were recorded after the initial quake, including one rated at 7.5 on the Richter scale.

Turkey has reported 3,432 confirmed fatalities thus far, along with over 21,000 people injured.

In northwestern Syria, which remains split between rebel-controlled and government-administered towns, casualty figures have been updated more slowly. Currently, the Syrian government has confirmed 812 deaths and 1,449 people injured in Aleppo, Lattakia, Hama, Idleb and Tartous.

Another 790 deaths have been reported thus far in rebel-held districts.

Thus far, 5,775 buildings were reported destroyed in southern Turkey during the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks, including 1,500 buildings destroyed in the Hatay province alone.

Over 24,400 emergency personnel have been deployed to southern Turkey to search for survivors and treat the injured.

Catherine Smallwood, the World Health Organization’s senior emergency officer for Europe, expressed pessimism regarding the total number of fatalities, telling AFP that the final tally could top 20,000.

“There’s continued potential of further collapses to happen so we do often see in the order of eightfold increases on the initial numbers." Smallwood said, referring to the preliminary death toll estimate of 2,600.

“We always see the same thing with earthquakes, unfortunately, which is that 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.”