A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake has hit Turkey and Syria, killing thousands of people and trapping many others.
The quake struck at 04:17 am local time (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 17.9 kilometers (11 miles) and was followed by a 6.7-magnitude aftershock 15 minutes later, according to the US Geological Survey.
Turkey’s AFAD emergencies service center put the first quake’s magnitude at 7.4.
More than 4,300 people have lost their lives in the two countries so far, and thousands more have been injured.
According Turkey’s health ministry, the country’s death toll following the earthquake has risen to 2,921 with thousands of buildings destroyed.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described the earthquake as the country's largest disaster since 1939.
He has also announced one week of national mourning following the catastrophic quake.
The Ankara government has requested international aid amid the widespread devastation caused by the quake.
The president of the Turkish Red Crescent also urged the nation to make blood donations.
Kerem Kinik also said on Twitter the organization sending additional shipment of blood to the affected region.
The country's vice president Fuat Oktay announced the suspension of schools in the 10 affected cities and provinces.
He also announced that flights to and from the airport in Hatay province have been suspended, while airports in Marash and Antep are also closed to civilian flights.
The quake leveled buildings across major cities in southern Turkey, including Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, and caught most people while they were still asleep.
“I have never felt anything like it in the 40 years I’ve lived,” Erdem, a resident of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the quake’s epicenter, told Reuters. “We were shaken at least three times very strongly, like a baby in a crib.”
The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, said it was concerned about areas in Turkey from which there had been no news following the overnight tremor.
"National authorities will be focusing on search and rescue at the moment," a WHO spokesperson told Reuters in a statement, adding "Then we will expect an increased need for trauma care to treat the injured and to support the entire health system in affected areas."
In Syria, the country’s health ministry and rescue teams working across the nation put the death toll at over 1,440.
The official SANA news agency, quoting the country’s health ministry, said the quake had killed at least 711 people and left at least another 3,411 injured, including the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartus.
Rescue teams said at least 733 people were killed and more than 2,100 injured in northwestern parts of the country, which are held by pro-Turkish militants.
Reports said the Syrian border city of Harem in Idlib province was completely ruined by the quake.
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad held an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the necessary measures, according to his office.
Raed Ahmed, who heads Syria’s National Earthquake Center, told Syrian media that this was “historically, the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the center.”
The tremors were also felt in Lebanon and Cyprus.
People in the Lebanese cities of Beirut and Tripoli ran into the street and took to their cars to get away from their buildings in case they collapsed, Reuters cited witnesses as saying.
Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. In 1999, more than 17,000 people were killed in the worst earthquake to hit the country in decades.
Putin offers condolences, aid to Turkey, Syria after quake
Russia's President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences and offered Russian aid to Turkey and Syria following the deadly earthquake, the Kremlin said.
"We share the sadness and the pain of those who lost their loved ones and we hope for a speedy recovery for all the injured, and are ready to provide the assistance needed to overcome the impact of this natural disaster," Putin said in a message to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
In a separate message to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Putin asked him to "convey words of sincere sympathy and support" to the families of the victims and said Russia was "ready to provide required assistance."
"Bashar al-Assad gratefully accepted this offer, and in the coming hours rescuers of the Russian emergencies ministry will fly to Syria," the Kremlin said in a statement.
"The Turkish president warmly thanked Vladimir Putin for such a prompt and sincere reaction and said that he was giving instructions to the competent authorities of the country to accept the help of Russian rescuers," it said.
Russia said it had emergency rescue Ilyushin-76 planes on standby to fly to the two countries.
Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu separately spoke with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar by telephone, offering condolences and support.
The Defense Ministry said in a statement that Shoigu "offered to provide all necessary assistance through the military department to his Turkish colleague in the aftermath of the earthquake, including medical assistance to the victims."
China's Xi condole with Turkey, Syria over deadly quake
Later on Monday, China's President Xi Jinping sent his condolences to Turkish and Syrian leaders over the most powerful earthquake to have hit their countries in nearly a century.
Xi told Turkey’s Erdogan and Syria’s Assad in separate messages that he was "shocked" to learn of the disaster.
He also conveyed "deep condolences for the dead and sincere sympathy for their families as well as for the injured."
"I am shocked to learn of the strong earthquake that took place in your countries, causing heavy casualties and loss of property," Xi said in his messages, according to CCTV.
China's official foreign aid agency said it was in communication with Turkish and Syrian authorities and "willing to provide emergency humanitarian aid in accordance with the needs of the affected population."
EU mobilizes over 10 search and rescue teams to Turkey
The European Union says more than 10 search and rescue teams from the bloc have been mobilized in the wake of Turkey's major earthquake.
"Urban Search and Rescue teams have been quickly mobilized from Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania to support the first responders on the ground," the European Commission said in a statement.
Italy, Spain and Slovakia have offered their rescue teams to Turkey as well.
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