WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) – The United States said on Thursday it would provide $85 million in immediate humanitarian aid to Turkey and Syria after a massive earthquake that killed more than 20,000 people.

The announcement by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) came shortly after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held his second call in four days with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The death toll in both countries has now exceeded the 17,000 killed in 1999, when a similarly powerful earthquake struck northwestern Turkey.

Hundreds of thousands of people in both countries have become homeless in the middle of winter. Many have camped in makeshift shelters in supermarket car parks, mosques, along roadsides or among ruins, often desperate for food, water and heat.

“This new funding is supporting USAID’s humanitarian partners to provide urgently needed assistance for millions of people in Turkey and Syria,” USAID said in a statement.

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Washington has already dispatched teams of about 160 people and 12 dogs to Turkey, whose top priority is to help rescue people from under the thousands of collapsed buildings. Paramedics, emergency responders, hazardous materials technicians and others have already arrived.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told a daily briefing that Blinken’s call with Cavusoglu was to understand from Ankara “what they would like to see from the United States” in terms of assistance from the United States after the disaster.

Price said, “The Foreign Minister (Cavusoglu) offered some specifics to Secretary Blinken. We will do everything we can to meet the requirements the Turks have presented.”

American helicopters are helping rescue personnel Price said inaccessible areas are difficult to reach and Washington is already deploying relief equipment, hoping it will add to recovery efforts.

He said Washington is also sending concrete breakers, generators, medical supplies, tents, water and water purification systems.

Reporting by Humaira Pamuk, Rami Ayyub and Daphne Soledakis; Editing by Josie Cao and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Doctrine.

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