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Freezing weather adds to despair as Turkey-Syria earthquake toll passes 21,000 Photo by: Pixabay

The UN cautions that the disaster's full extent is still unclear but that more than 21,000 people are already confirmed dead in Monday's earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.

As many people are still suspected to be trapped beneath the wreckage of fallen buildings, rescue and relief activities have gone on for a fourth day amid freezing temperatures and rain. Freezing conditions threaten the lives of thousands of survivors who are now without shelter, water and food.

The earthquake has now marked a tragic milestone, it's in the top 10 deadliest quakes over the past 20 years. The president of Turkey called the earthquake "the disaster of the century."

A significant international relief effort is intensifying. The World Bank committed $1.78 billion in help to Turkey on Thursday, including immediate financing for the restoration of essential infrastructure and assistance for people impacted by the earthquakes. The US also issued a six-month blanket license to facilitate assistance to Syria against US-imposed sanctions.

However, several logistical difficulties, including a lack of vehicles and damaged roads, are impeding the efforts of 100,000 or more rescue workers on the ground.

The entire scope of the calamity was still "unfolding before our eyes," according to UN head Antonio Guterres, notably in Syria where a protracted civil conflict has wreaked havoc on the nation.

The first UN humanitarian aid entered northwest Syria on Thursday through the Bab al-Hawa crossing in Idlib. Only through the bridge can UN aid enter the area without passing through territory governed by Syrian government forces, BBC reports.

The first UN convoy to arrive in the area, according to the White Helmets rescue organization, lacked the specialized tools needed to free those trapped under the rubble.

"This makes us very disappointed at a time when we are desperate for such equipment to help us save lives from under the rubble," the group said on Twitter.

Mousa Zidane, a volunteer with the "White Helmets," officially known as Syria Civil Defense, told CNN on Thursday that in the aftermath of the quakes, "tens of thousands of families are currently homeless all-over northwest Syria."

"Hundreds of families in Idlib are sleeping in their cars, public parks, and streets," after their homes were destroyed, Zidane said. "Even those who still have homes, they are scared to spend the night indoors, they briefly go to their homes during the day then they leave at night out of fear [of further earthquakes]."

"We need help searching for survivors and pulling the dead from under collapsed buildings. We urgently need to help homeless families by providing shelters, food, cloths and vital essentials," Zidane said.

Survivors, many of whom are homeless, could face "a secondary disaster" as cold and snow lead to "worsening and horrific conditions," the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Tall buildings in Islahiya and Nurdagi collapsed, filling the streets with debris, while others withstood the violent shaking. Tents have popped up in the middle of avenues and trucks and vehicles line other streets. In some areas, almost an entire city block was devastated by the earthquake, reports ABC News.

Prior to and during the enormous earthquake that occurred in southern Turkey near the Syrian border on Feb. 6, Maxar Technologies captured satellite photographs.

The U.S. Treasury Department said Thursday it had issued a license to facilitate the transit of earthquake relief supplies that would otherwise be prohibited by Syrian sanctions.

"U.S. sanctions in Syria will not stand in the way of life-saving efforts for the Syrian people," deputy Treasury secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement. "While U.S. sanctions programs already contain robust exemptions for humanitarian efforts, today Treasury is issuing a blanket General License to authorize earthquake relief efforts so that those providing assistance can focus on what's needed most: saving lives and rebuilding," reports The Guardian.

The license lasts for six months. It expands on broad humanitarian authorizations already in effect.

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