Two earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria on Monday just 12 hours apart, destroying numerous buildings, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousand more without shelter.
Qatar launched the first air bridge to Turkey on Monday night in response to the deadly earthquakes that rocked the country and neighbouring Syria, as the mounting death toll surpassed 2,500 in total.
In a statement, Qatar’s foreign ministry said the first flights of the air bridge were launched per the directives of the Gulf state’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.
“The first flights of the air bridge are accompanied by a team from the Qatar International Search and Rescue Group of the Internal Security Force (Lekhwiya) equipped with specialised mechanisms for search and rescue operations, in addition to a field hospital, relief aid, tents and winter supplies,” the statement read.
It comes as Turkey’s health ministry stated the death toll has reached at least 1,651. Over in Syria, government and rescue groups also confirmed a toll of at least 968 in various cities including Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartus.
On Monday evening, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority confirmed 6,445 people were rescued from collapsed buildings, noting more than 5,600 structures were destroyed.
In a tweet responding to the tragedy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a week of national mourning.
“A national mourning period has been declared for seven days,” the president tweeted. “Our flag will be lowered to half-staff until sunset on Sunday, February 12, 2023, in all our national and foreign representative offices.”
The first 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck early in the morning with the epicenter close to the Turkish city of Gaziantep. Hours later, this was shortly followed by a second quake with a magnitude of 7.5 in southeast Turkey.
Tremors were also felt in Egypt, Lebanon, Cyprus, Iraq, and elsewhere in the region.
Earlier on Monday, Qatar’s amir called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to express his condolences and confirm Qatar’s readiness to assist.
The Turkish embassy in Doha also confirmed that some 120 Qatari search and rescue personnel will be sent to the country, in a statement sent to Doha News.
US President Joe Biden also confirmed an immediate response team will be deployed to address the disaster.
“Our teams are deploying quickly to begin to support Turkish search and rescue efforts and address the needs of those injured and displaced,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House.