President Xi Jinping has extended messages of sympathy to the leaders of Turkiye and Syria after the two nations were hit by two powerful earthquakes. At least 2,300 people reportedly were killed and thousands injured in the quakes by press time.
In the messages to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Xi said he was shocked to learn that the quakes led to major casualties and losses in the two nations.
On behalf of the Chinese government and people, he expressed deep grief over the deaths and extended sincere sympathy to the families of the victims and to those who were injured.
Xi said he believes the two nations and their people, led by their respective presidents, will surely get through the disaster at an early date and rebuild their homes.
In a statement issued on Monday, the China International Development Cooperation Agency said it has been in communication with related departments in Turkiye and Syria and was ready to provide emergency humanitarian assistance according to the needs of the disaster-stricken people.
The first quake, a magnitude 7.8 temblor, rocked southeastern Turkiye and northern Syria early on Monday. It hit near Gaziantep in southeastern Turkiye at 4:17 am local time at a depth of about 17.9 kilometers, according to the US Geological Survey.
The quake toppled hundreds of buildings, and hundreds of people were believed to be trapped beneath rubble. The toll was expected to rise as rescue workers searched mounds of debris in cities and towns across the area.
More than 20 aftershocks followed, some occurring hours later during daylight, Turkish authorities said.
A second earthquake, at magnitude 7.5, hit southeast Turkiye at 1:24 pm on Monday, the USGS reported, adding that the quake hit at 1:24 pm, 4 km south-southeast of the town of Ekinozu and at a depth of about 10 km.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that "search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched" to the areas hit by the quake.
Images on Turkish television showed rescuers digging through rubble across city centers and residential neighborhoods of almost all the big cities running along the border with Syria.
Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the first quake's epicenter between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, where entire city blocks lay in ruins under the gathering snow.
Kahramanmaras Governor Omer Faruk Coskun said, "It is not possible to give the number of dead and injured at the moment because so many buildings have been destroyed."
The Turkish armed forces set up an air corridor to enable search and rescue teams to reach the zone affected by the quakes, the country's Defense Ministry said in a statement on Monday.
Turkiye sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. In 1999, about 18,000 people were killed in powerful quakes that hit northwestern Turkiye.
Meanwhile, the European Union was sending rescue teams and preparing further help for Turkiye, the EU's crisis management commissioner said later on Monday.
"Teams from the Netherlands and Romania are already on their way," Commissioner Janez Lenarcic of the EU's Emergency Response Coordination Centre said on Twitter.
Several leaders in the EU pledged help, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Belgium, Poland, Spain and Finland also said they stood ready to deploy teams and offer help.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent condolences on Monday to Turkiye and Syria, saying Moscow was ready to provide assistance.