Updated Feb 9, 2023 - World

First UN aid convoy reaches northern Syria as quake death toll tops 19,000

3 people are rescued from under rubble of collapsed building in Gaziantep, Turkiye after 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes hit Turkiye's Kahramanmaras, on February 09.

Three people are rescued from the rubble of a collapsed building in Gaziantep, Turkey, on Thursday, Feb. 9, following this week's earthquake. Photo: Basir Gulum/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Editor's note: Follow latest coverage of the earthquake aftermath,

The first United Nations humanitarian aid convoy entered northwest Syria Thursday, three days after a devastating earthquake struck the region and flattened buildings in parts of both Turkey and Syria.

The big picture: The total death toll surpassed 19,350 Thursday, as search and rescue operations continued after a magnitude 7.8 quake struck Monday morning just north of Turkey's Gaziantep, near the Syrian border.

A screenshot of earthquake damage in the southeastern city of Sanliurfa.
A screenshot of a tweet from the Metropolitan Municipality of Şanlıurfa showing the earthquake damage in the southeastern Turkish city. It says the city is in a "state of mobilization with all our operators, outreach teams, staff and volunteers." Photo: Metropolitan Municipality of Şanlıurfa/Twitter
  • Tremors were felt in Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a three-month state of emergency in the provinces hit by the world's deadliest earthquake since the 2011 one that struck Japan and killed nearly 20,000 people.

By the numbers: Erdoğan said at a press briefing Thursday that the country's death toll had surpassed 16,170, the New York Times reported.

  • At least 63,794 people were injured following the quake, according to Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority said earlier Thursday.
  • Syrian state media said Wednesday at least 1,250 people were killed and over 2,054 others injured in government-held areas.
  • The Syrian Civil Defense, first responders also known as the White Helmets, said Wednesday more than 1,930 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 3,180 people, and the overall death toll to over 19,350.

Of note: Gaziantep and its surrounding areas host hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have been displaced by nearly 12 years of civil war.

  • El-Mostafa Benlamlih, UN resident coordinator for Syria, said Wednesday that some 15.3 million people — and counting — were in need of humanitarian assistance in the country.
  • There were reports of tremors being particularly destructive in opposition-held areas of northwestern Syria, where millions of people displaced by the war live in densely populated towns. About 100,000 people were believed to be experiencing homelessness in Aleppo alone, Benlamlih said.
  • He noted that 70,000 Syrians were enduring snow and "living in a terrible situation."
  • “We can call it the disaster of the century,” Erdoğan said Thursday, per the Times.

Zoom out: The earthquake revealed a "crisis within multiple crises" for Syria, a population already reeling from the effects of war, humanitarian groups are warning, Axios' Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath reports.

  • The UN's mandate for delivering aid to the opposition-held northwest only allows it to do so through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing from Turkey — but road damage has so far delayed shipments, AP reported.
  • A convoy with the six UN humanitarian aid trucks that entered the opposition-held northwest on Thursday was the largest delivery so far. Some smaller aid organizations have also managed to send shipments.

Between the lines: While fighting in the Syrian war has simmered down in recent years, many countries opposed to Bashar al-Assad's regime don't trust the government to effectively deliver aid to opposition-held territory.

  • The Syrian government has used the impasse to renew calls for aid to the north to be delivered via Damascus, per AP.

In photos: Turkey and Syria respond to destructive earthquake

 Search and rescue operations continue around the wreckage, in Osmaniye, Turkey on February 7, following the quake.
Search and rescue operations in Osmaniye, Turkey, on Feb. 7 in response to the quake. Photo: Ozan Efeoglu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
People injured in the earthquake in Hatay are taken to a ship to be transferred to Mersin, Turkey, on Feb. 7.
People injured in the earthquake in Hatay are taken to a ship to be transferred to Mersin, Turkey, on Feb. 7. Photo: Murat Sengul/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Rescue teams and residents of the region continue their search and rescue efforts in collapsed buildings, in Idlib, Syria after the quake
Residents join rescue teams to help in Idlib, Syria, after the quake on Feb. 6. Photo: Syrian Civil Defense/HAndout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Rescue workers attend the scene of a collapsed building on February 06, 2023 in Iskenderun Turkey.
Rescue workers attend the scene of a collapsed building on Feb. 6 in Iskenderun, Turkey. Photo: Burak Kara/Getty Images
Aftermath showing ruined residential buildings following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred in the Pazarcık district of Kahramanmaraş on February 6.
The scene in Kahramanmaraş, Turkey, following the quake on Feb. 6. Photo: Ahmet Akpolat/via images via Getty Images
Search and rescue works continue after a 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit southern provinces of Turkiye, in Diyarbakir, Turkiye on February 6.
Search and rescue operations in Diyarbakir, Turkey, after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the country's south on Feb. 6. Photo: Aydin Arik/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
 A view of destroyed building after earthquakes jolts Turkiye's provinces, on February 6, 2023 in Diyarbakir, Turkiye.
A destroyed building in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on Feb. 6. Photo: Omer Yasin Ergin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A  destroyed apartment and damaged vehicle in Yurt neighborhood of Cukurova district after the earthquake on February 6, 2023 in Adana, Turkiye.
The scene in Adana, Turkey, on Feb. 6. Photo: Omer Yildiz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Syrian rescuers (White Helmets) and residents gather near a collapsed building following an earthquake, in the border town of Azaz in the rebel-held north of the Aleppo province, early on February 6.
Syrian rescuers (White Helmets) and residents gather near a collapsed building in the border town of Azaz in the rebel-held north of the Aleppo province on Feb. 6. Photo: Bakr Alkasem/AFP via Getty Images
A view of debris as rescue workers conduct search and rescue operations after the 7.4 magnitude earthquake hits Kahramanmaras, Turkiye on February 06.
Debris in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaraş on Feb. 6. Photo: 'Eren Bozkurt/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Go deeper: For Syrians, quake is "another devastating blow" after nearly 12 years of war

Editor's note: This article has been updated with additional details throughout.

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