"I’ve been to Turkey 28 times. The buildings are high, solid; full of concrete. If they collapse, there’s going to be mass casualties; people are going to die," Dr. Imtiaz Sooliman, Gift of the Givers director, told VOA.
"And the buildings are so close to each other; the populations are huge; there’s just too many people living in those areas," Sooliman said.
The South African group has worked in Turkey and Syria for more than a decade, providing aid to victims of conflict in northern Syria, where millions of refugees live in camps on both sides of the border
The extremely strong earthquake hit south-eastern Turkey, near Syria’s border, early Monday morning, followed by heavy aftershocks.
The tremors caused thousands of buildings to collapse in high-density areas, and many remain missing.
Sooliman said his staff rushed to the epicenter of the quake, the Turkish city of Gaziantep, soon after it struck just after 4 A.M, where his team has already rescued many victims, including babies.
Gaziantep is Turkey’s sixth-most populous city. Sooliman said survivors have no shelter, in subzero temperatures.
"It’s snowing. [The team] said when they came out of a house, they had to wait 30 minutes or more to get back into the house, because they were afraid of tremors. The snow was thick, the rain was heavy; it’s freezing cold; it’s difficult to move; the equipment can’t go; teams can’t go…" Sooliman said.
The NGO is channeling its resources to Turkey and Syria and plans to soon have more than 100 doctors and 25 search-and-rescue teams on the ground.
The United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO said on Tuesday it was ready to aid two cities on its heritage list – Aleppo in Syria and Diyarbakir in Turkey – that sustained damage in the devastating earthquake.
The United States, the European Union and Russia all sent condolences and offers of help.
Turkey is in one of the world's most active earthquake zones.
Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse.