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At least 2,800 people have died in an earthquake in southern Turkey and Syria

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A massive, powerful earthquake hit parts of Turkey and northern Syria today. It reverberated through the Mideast. At least 3,400 people are dead, nearly 10,000 injured.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Ammar al-Salmo (ph) is among those searching for survivors among the rubble.

AMMAR AL-SALMO: Every second is important for saving lives - every second. Some people, we are hearing their voices right now. We can - we cannot reach them.

SUMMERS: He's a White Helmets volunteer in Syria, near the Turkish border. And as promises of international aid pour into the region, we asked what he needed most.

AL-SALMO: We have number of heavy vehicles, but it's not enough to deal with around 200 buildings on the ground. It's so much. You need the heavy vehicles to raise the rubble, to remove the rubble.

SHAPIRO: For more now, we go to NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So this earthquake was magnitude 7.8. Can you give us a sense of how widely this was felt?

KENYON: Well, as far north as Lebanon, as far south as Cairo, that kind of sums it up. It's been called, by some, the biggest. Others say, well, it's the second-worst earthquake here in the past hundred years. But either way, it was hugely destructive. Now, the death toll is considerably lower than a deadly quake in 1999. That left more than 17,000 people dead. This is a lot less than that, of course, but officials do expect the toll to keep rising. The question is, how high? Many, many people injured, nearly 2,500 people have, though, been pulled alive from the rubble so far, after more than 2,800 buildings collapsed.

Some people here say there is some reason to hope the death toll won't approach that huge total from 1999. Building standards are better in Turkey since then, for one thing. Other measures have been put in place. But as officials here have been saying all day long, there's no guarantee against a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. It's just too big. There's going to be loss of life. People are just wondering how great a loss. And the first 72 hours are extremely important, experts say, in terms of finding survivors. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared a seven-day mourning period, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What can you tell us about the situation in Syria, which was also really hard hit?

KENYON: Yes, very hard hit. We're hearing more than 800 dead in Syria, also where much of the reported damage occurred outside of Turkey, of course. I should say they've also been a number of aftershocks, even some debate about whether the biggest one, at 7.5 magnitude, was actually an aftershock or a second quake on a different fault line. I don't have that geological answer, but clearly, two events of that size, magnitude 7.5 or higher, on the same day is a huge blow to any population.

SHAPIRO: You said how important the first few days of a rescue operation are. I know Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been updating people throughout the day. Tell us about the rescue and recovery effort.

KENYON: Well, Turkey's emergency management agency is calling for aid to come in and saying there's an urgent need to keep the roads open and communications open. The agency says sending aid without coordinating first with the agency will only complicate Turkey's response to the quake. President Erdogan echoed that comment. He said aid sent without the agency's cooperation, quote, "will hurt the situation."

SHAPIRO: Erdogan mentioned that international support has been flooding in already. Can you give us a sense of what's being offered?

KENYON: Well, one interesting thing, Turkey's had some very tense times with NATO recently because of Erdogan's opposition to Sweden's bid to join the bloc. But NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says members of the alliance are already mobilizing support to help Turkey deal with the quake's destruction. He said, quote, "NATO expresses full solidarity with Turkey in the aftermath of this terrible quake." The EU's civil protection mechanism also kicking in - rescue teams from Romania and the Netherlands on their way. And U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement saying Washington's initial assessment response is already underway. And Blinken said, quote, "we're determined to do all that we can to help those affected by these earthquakes in the days, weeks and months ahead." So clearly, political tensions are being at least temporarily set aside as other nations prepare to help Turkey deal with this natural disaster.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thank you.

KENYON: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.