Earthquake death toll in Turkey and Syria surpasses 21,000

The death toll from this week’s massive earthquakes and aftershocks in Syria and Turkey passed 21,700 on Friday, as hope for finding survivors trapped under toppled buildings began to fade.

The big picture: Freezing winter weather conditions and the sheer scale of the destruction have hampered rescue efforts for days after the 7.8-magnitude quake hit Monday.

  • The number of quake-related deaths recorded is now greater than the 2011 earthquake that rocked Japan and spurred a tsunami, killing roughly 20,000 people and triggering the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

By the numbers: Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority has confirmed on Friday that the country’s quake death toll had risen to 18,342 and that 74,242 people had been injured in the disaster.

  • Syrian state media said Thursday at least 1,347 people were killed and over 2,295 others injured in government-held areas.
  • The Syrian Civil Defense, first responders also known as the White Helmets, said Thursday more than 2,030 people had died and another 2,950 were injured in opposition-held areas — bringing the country’s death toll from the quake to at least 3,377 people, and the overall death toll to more than 21,700.

Zoom in: At least three U.S. citizens were among the dead in Turkey, the State Department said in a statement Thursday noting its staff was working to help the victims’ families.

  • “We are working closely with local authorities and other partner organizations to assist any U.S. citizens in the affected areas,” the statement added. “We offer our sincerest condolences to the victims and to the families of all of those affected.”
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Thursday the U.S. would provide $85 million in urgent humanitarian aid in addition to the hundreds of personnel deployed to the region since Monday.
  • The Treasury Department on Thursday issued Syria General License (GL) 23, authorizing for 180 days “all transactions related to earthquake relief that would be otherwise prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations.”

State of play: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared a three-month state of emergency in the provinces devastated by the earthquake.

  • In opposition-held areas of northwestern Syria, where millions of people displaced by the war live in densely populated towns, the devastation will compound other humanitarian and economic crises people in the region already face.
  • In southern Turkey, Gaziantep and its surrounding areas were home to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have been displaced by nearly 12 years of war.