MOUNT PROSPECT — The Turkish American Society of Chicago hosted a prayer vigil Thursday night for the victims of an earthquake in Turkey and Syria that has been declared “the disaster of the century” as the death toll tops 20,000.

The world’s deadliest earthquake in more than 20 years has been the worst in Turkey since 1939. Dealing with the unimaginable loss was Mehmet Daniz, who, through a translator, spoke about his family members killed in Turkey.

“The news was very devastating. About 100 people from his family, close family relatives, have died,” the translator said.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Local efforts underway to collect aid, supplies for Turkey, Syria after deadly quake

The death toll from Monday’s 7.8 magnitude catastrophe rose to nearly 21,000, eclipsing the more than 18,400 who died in the 2011 earthquake off Fukushima, Japan, that triggered a tsunami and the estimated 18,000 people who died in a quake near the Turkish capital, Istanbul, in 1999.

The new figure, sure to rise, included over 17,600 people in Turkey and more than 3,300 in civil war-torn Syria. Tens of thousands were also injured.

Workers continued to conduct rescue operations in Kahramanmaras, but it was clear that many who were trapped in collapsed buildings had already died. 

More than 400 people attended the vigil and mourned loved ones in their homeland while raising money for survivors and the rescue effort. 

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“We have families, friends that have families, still under the rubble,” said Turkish American Center of Chicago’s Ekrem Guzelyel. “We want to organize a vigil to pray and whatever we can do we will accept donations as well so we can seize the sorry a little. Anything helps.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.