Strong quake hits Turkey, up to 1000 feared dead

The deputy prime minister says around 45 buildings have collapsed in the town of Ercis and the city of Van.

Updated: Oct 24, 2011, 00:37 AM IST

Van: As many as 1,000 people were feared killed on Sunday when a powerful earthquake struck southeast Turkey, destroying dozens of buildings and trapping some victims alive under the debris.

As night fell, emergency workers battled to dig people out of the rubble in the city of Van and surrounding districts. Civilians joined in the desperate search, using their bare hands and working under generator-powered floodlights.

"We heard cries and groaning from underneath the debris, we are waiting for the rescue teams to arrive," Halil Celik told a news agency as he stood beside the ruins of building that had collapsed before his eyes.

"All of a sudden, a quake tore down the building in front of me. All the bystanders, we all ran to the building and rescued two injured people from the ruins."

At another site, three teenagers were believed trapped under a collapsed building. People clambered over the shattered masonry, shouting: "Is there anyone there?"

An elderly rescue worker sat sobbing, his exhausted face covered in dust. Police tried to keep onlookers back. Ambulance crews sat waiting to help anyone dragged out of the debris.

Turkey`s Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute said the magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck at 6:41 am EDT and was five km (three miles) deep.

A dozen buildings collapsed in Van city, close to the Iranian border, and more were brought to the ground in the nearby district of Ercis, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told reporters.

"We estimate around 1,000 buildings are damaged and our estimate is for hundreds of lives lost. It could be 500 or 1,000," Kandilli Observatory general manager Mustafa Erdik told a news conference.

Hospital sources in Ercis, a town near the quake`s epicentre, said there were more than 50 dead bodies at one hospital and that 405 people had been wounded.

The quake was among the strongest in Turkish history, and the worst since 1999.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was travelling to Van and the cabinet was expected to discuss the quake on Monday morning.

"A lot of buildings collapsed, many people were killed, but we don`t know the number. We are waiting for emergency help, it`s very urgent," Zulfukar Arapoglu, the mayor of Ercis, told news broadcaster NTV.

Cihan news agency said that of the dead, 30 had been killed in Ercis, where some 80 buildings had collapsed.

"We need tents urgently and rescue teams. We don`t have any ambulances, and we only have one hospital. We have many killed and injured," Arapoglu said.

Turkey`s Red Crescent said one of its local teams was helping to rescue people from a student residence in Ercis. It said it was sending tents, blankets and food to the region.

More than 70 aftershocks shook the area, further unsettling residents who ran into the streets when the initial quake struck. Television pictures showed rooms shaking and furniture toppling as people ran from one building.


Dozens of emergency workers and residents scrambled over a multi-storey building in Van as they searched for anyone trapped inside.

Elsewhere, dazed survivors wandered past vehicles crushed by falling masonry.

Some 50 injured people were taken to hospital in Van, state-run Anatolian news agency reported.

Turkish media said phone lines and electricity had been cut off. The quake`s epicentre was at the village of Tabanli, 20 km north of Van city, Kandilli said.

International offers of aid poured in from NATO, China, Japan, the United States, Azerbaijan, European countries and Israel, whose ties with Ankara have soured since Israeli commandoes killed nine Turks during a raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip in 2010.

In Hakkari, about 100 km south of Van, a news agency correspondent said the building he was in swayed for about 10 seconds during the quake. But there was no immediate sign of casualties or damage in the town, which is about two and a half hours` drive from Van.

Major geological fault lines cross Turkey and there are small earthquakes almost daily. Two large quakes in 1999 killed more than 20,000 people in northwest Turkey.

An earthquake struck Van province in November 1976, with 5,291 confirmed dead. Two people were killed and 79 injured in May when an earthquake shook Simav in northwest Turkey.

Bureau Report