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Massive earthquake hits Turkey – victims toll hits 217

Rescuers searched Monday for victims of a powerful earthquake in eastern Turkey that killed at least 217 people, with more feared trapped in the rubble of dozens of collapsed apartment buildings.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rushed to the Kurdish-populated Van province where the 7.2-magnitude quake struck on Monday, and warned the toll could rise as more victims were found in the wreckage of shattered buildings.

“Search and rescue efforts will continue overnight,” he said.

Erdogan said the situation was particularly grave in Ercis, a district of around 100,000 people where around 55 apartment buildings have collapsed.

Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said that 100 people had died in the city of Van and 117 in Ercis district, with another 1,090 injured in the nation’s worst quake in years.

Television footage showed search and rescue teams recovering bodies from the rubble in Van city and Ercis, working under floodlights powered by generators as night fell.

“People are panicked. The telecommunication services have collapsed. We cannot reach anybody,” Bekir Kaya, the mayor of Van, told NTV television.

Ordinary people joined in the recovery effort, using shovels and other tools as they searched through the rubble and tended to the dying and wounded.

“There are efforts to rescue people but the loss is big. I myself saw three to four dead,” one local man in Ercis told AFP.

Countless people spent the night outdoors after the terrifying quake which also caused widespread electricity outages, huddling around fires for warmth as the temperatures hovered around freezing.

The strong shake had sent people rushing into the streets, screaming and wailing in fear as buildings swayed above them.

Turkey’s Kandilli seismological institute had said in an initial assessment that between 500 and 1,000 people were estimated to have been killed in the disaster.

Turkey mobilised some 1,275 search and rescue teams from 38 cities as well as 145 ambulances to speed to the aid of the victims.

The military said six battalions were also involved in search and rescue efforts.

Six helicopters, including four helicopter ambulances, as well as C-130 military cargo planes were dispatched to the area carrying tents, food and medicine.

Some 200 inmates fled the prison in Van province when the building was damaged in the quake, media reports said, adding that 50 of them returned to prison later after seeing their families.

US President Barack Obama said he had been following reports of the disaster “with great concern” and offered his condolences to the victims.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Turkish ally in this difficult time, and are ready to assist the Turkish authorities,” he said in a statement.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the brave men and women who are working to bring assistance to this stricken region.”

The epicentre of the quake, which struck at 1041 GMT, was at Tabanli in Van province, the Kandilli institute said, and was followed by two strong aftershocks.

Although the quake damaged Van’s airport it did not disrupt air traffic, the Anatolia news agency quoted civil aviation authorities as saying, and airlines launched additional flights to Van.

The quake was also felt across the border in northwestern Iran, causing some panic in major cities, Iranian media reported. They did not report any deaths or serious damage.

In 1999, two strong quakes in northwest Turkey’s heavily populated and industrialised regions left some 20,000 dead. A powerful earthquake in the town of Caldiran in Van province killed 3,840 people in 1976.

Source: AFP

Category: World News |

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Last updated March 30, 2017 at 10:54 AM
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