A senior official at the World Health Organization warned Monday the death toll from the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria could rise “eightfold” as rescue efforts continue.
Catherine Smallwood, WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, told the AFP injuries and fatalities linked to severe earthquakes often rise “significantly” in the week after the disaster. She made the comments when the estimated toll was 2,600 people, meaning the eventual death toll could rise to more than 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 told the news agency. “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.”
Within 24 hours of the 7.8 magnitude quake and a series of severe aftershocks, more than 5,000 people were confirmed dead and at least 20,000 were injured. Cold winter weather and heavy rain have complicated rescue efforts and recovery plans for thousands of people who no longer have homes.
Rescue crews from around Europe and the world were rushing to Turkey and Syria to assist local efforts to comb through thousands of buildings that collapsed. Turkish officials said at least 5,600 buildings had been destroyed in the quakes, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan portended bleak days ahead.
“We do not know where the number of dead and injured can go,” he said. “Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts although the winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night makes things more difficult.”
Reuters notes similarly sized earthquakes have killed thousands of people, pointing to a 7.8 magnitude temblor that killed 9,000 in Nepal in 2015.