Kiwi aid worker reflects on Syrians' 'amazing' spirit to help each other in earthquake recovery efforts amid humanitarian crisis

A Kiwi aid worker has reflected on the "amazing" spirit people are showing to help one another in the recovery effort as the death toll from the Turkey-Syria earthquake continues to rise.

The powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake on Monday (local time), followed hours later by a second one almost as powerful, toppled thousands of buildings including hospitals, schools and apartment blocks. 

Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces devastated by the two earthquakes that killed more than 6000 people and caused a trail of destruction across a wide area of southern Turkey and neighbouring Syria.

UNICEF warns thousands of children may have been killed in the quakes. 

This has seen countries all around the world stepping in to help in the recovery effort including New Zealand. Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced on Tuesday New Zealand will contribute $1.5 million to assist in the humanitarian response. 

Kiwi aid worker and UNICEF representative Angela Kearney, who is originally from Christchurch but was in Aleppo, Syria when the quake hit, told AM on Wednesday there is a major humanitarian crisis on the cards.

"The overwhelming thing that I saw yesterday was families on the streets. They had left at 4:15am, with no blankets, nothing, just in their pyjamas and they were trying to find shelter," Kearney told co-host Ryan Bridge. 

"So the schools were opened, the mosques were opened, the church was opened and that's where many, many families are sheltering. It's now night-time here and we've had some sunshine today, so it's been much more joyful, but it's really tough for people." 

Kearney was on the 20th floor of a building in Aleppo when the quake hit and she said the aftermath of destruction is quite "random". 

"Some of the buildings, of course, there's been such a massive civil war here, so some of them are war-affected and came down very, very easily and quickly. But even with the aftershocks, new buildings are coming down," Kearney explained.

"The authorities today have been what we would call red-stickering lots of apartment blocks that people were still living in. 

"It's not massive streets of whole lots of buildings down, it's quite random. But of course, there are people dead under that rubble and there's still some search and rescue going on." 

Kiwi aid worker Angela Kearney.
Kiwi aid worker Angela Kearney. Photo credit: AM

While there might be a major humanitarian crisis in store and a massive recovery effort ahead, stories are emerging of how Syrians are coming together to help one another. 

"I went into this school, it would be like any school in New Zealand, and the headmistress opened a door, she must have had about 50 people inside the headmistress's office. I went and greeted her and her eyes filled with tears. I asked what happened and she said, 'I lost my sister,'" Kearney said. "I thought, my goodness if we had just lost our sister or our brother, we wouldn't be at school taking over. So these people have just seen so much and they just want to help their own people. 

"It was amazing she was there. She knew every kid and every person who was in her room as well as in the other rooms of the school."

Kearney told AM Turkey and Syria need money, food, water and clothes to help people left displaced.

"Yesterday morning, we had 27 schools that were being used as shelters for families, by this morning it was 72 and tonight it's 127. These are classrooms, they are not prepared to have families live there," she said. 

"So they need rugs on the floor and they need blankets. I met families who had spent all of last night just sleeping on concrete and it was freezing. It's really cold. 

"They need clothes, they need food, they need medicine, they need clean water, they need milk… and they need all of life's necessities."

Damage in  Aleppo, Syria from the powerful earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria.
Damage in Aleppo, Syria from the powerful earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria. Photo credit: Getty Images

The race is now on to find survivors in Turkey and Syria with Turkish authorities saying 13.5 million people have been affected.

"It's now a race against time," World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva. "Every minute, every hour that passes, the chances of finding survivors alive diminishes."

If you want to donate to Unicef's quake appeal you can do so via

Watch the full interview with Angela Kearney above.