▶ Watch Video: USAID Administrator Samantha Power on U.S. response to earthquakes

The scale of destruction in Turkey and Syria from last week’s earthquakes has been staggering, and so is the death toll: more than 35,000 people killed. According to the United Nations, the toll may rise to 50,000. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes, and millions have been displaced.

Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), stressed to those who want to help that what’s needed most is money. 

“One of the things I want to stress is, the temptation is to give blankets and teddy bears and strollers and goods,” Power said Monday on “CBS Mornings.” “But actually what the organizations on the ground most need is money, is cash, because they can buy locally. That can actually help communities recover, get markets going again. So, if you have the resources to be able to give even a little, cash is best.”

USAID has set up an organization for information on donations, called the Center for International Disaster Information (cidi.org), “that gives you a listing of really credible, very effective organizations to give money to.”

Hampering relief efforts in Syria is the lack of access to humanitarian aid. Currently, only one border crossing is open from Turkey into Syria, which has been torn by war between the Assad government and opposition forces.  

Power said one of the top priorities is to expand access into Syria. 

“Linda Thomas Greenfield, our U.N. Ambassador, has introduced a resolution in New York demanding that more border crossings into northern Syria be opened,” Power said. “Syria, of course, has had a much more challenging time. You had the Assad regime in one part of the country, opposition-held territory in another part of the country. And the Russian Federation for a very long time has insisted that there be only one border crossing into northern Syria. And we are trying to have that expanded to three border crossings.”

“That will mean kind of industrial scale of flow of humanitarian assistance to Syria where the rescue effort hasn’t had the resources of that in Turkey,” Power said.

The U.S. has announced it will provide $85 million in urgent humanitarian assistance to Syria and Turkey. 

Search and rescue efforts continue at collapsed buildings after earthquakes hit multiple provinces of Turkey, including Kahramanmaras, on Feb. 13, 2023. 

Muhammed Selim Korkutata/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

For now, funding will go to the rescue and recovery efforts, said Power. 

“The U.S. has a 200-person disaster response team on the ground, including search-and-rescue, with about 170,000 pounds of equipment doing search-and-rescue now, and what will be recovery.”

“But as you know, it’s freezing there. Now you have tens of thousands of buildings that no longer stand, and people need temporary housing; they need water and hygiene [and] basic food staples. They’re not going to have their livelihoods any time soon.”

“This is just our initial response,” she said. “We really need private citizens, businesses and other countries to step up at scale.”

On Sunday a U.N. official called the international response in Syria a failure, with aid slow to arrive.

Power said, “We’ve seen the compassion of the world congregate in Turkey, and many, many people are alive today and will recover from this earthquake because of the international response. What has been challenging, again, is that the Russian Federation, through the Security Council, has blocked proper humanitarian response in northern Syria. And that’s just another sign of Russian brutality or coldness to human life.” 

“But that really is what the U.N. is talking about, is let us get the response in Syria up to what it is in Turkey,” she said. “Let us have that humanitarian aid flowing to all the places it is needed, and not just the places where the sovereign government is able to manage the response, as in Turkey.”

Power praised the charity of Americans who have been moved by pictures of the disaster. 

“It’s overwhelming for us to see the level of generosity,” she said. “It’s not surprising; we’ve seen it on Ukraine, we see it whenever a domestic emergency hits.”