279 Reported Dead in Turkey Earthquake; 1,300 More Hurt

Using shovels, heavy machinery and their bare hands, rescue workers scrambled through piles of rubble to find survivors Monday after a deadly 7.2-magnitude earthquake devastated parts of eastern Turkey.


Sunday’s major quake struck at 1:41 p.m. local time and was centered about 12 miles from Van, the agency said. The quake was also felt in Iran and Armenia. Numerous aftershocks – the largest a magnitude 6.0 – rattled eastern Turkey, one of the nation’s poorest areas.


The death toll has risen to 279, with another 1,300 injured, Turkey’s semi-official Anatolian news agency reported, citing the country’s disaster management authority. Some 970 buildings are demolished. There have been conflicting reports about the number of dead, however. Interior Minister Idris Sahin said Monday that as many as 264 people were dead, while Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay put the death toll at 239. “As the rescue work progresses, there is a possibility of the Ercis death toll increasing, but the figures are not likely to be scary numbers,” he said. (CBC)


It was difficult to tally the number of injured, Health Minister Recap Akdag said, because many were being treated and released. The military was assisting with search-and-rescue efforts, Atalay said.


Turkish Prime Minister Recap Tayyip Erdogan said 55 buildings collapsed in Ecris on on the north shore of Lake Van. The Turkish Red Crescent said about 25 apartment buildings collapsed in the town. A health services building also collapsed, along with part of a hospital, CNN sister network CNN Turk reported. The injured were being treated in the hospital’s garden.


“People are really scared,” CNN Turk reporter Nevsin Mengu said from Van. “The survivors are now trying to survive the cold weather.” Rescuers and survivors contended with near-freezing temperatures early Monday. Some people collected wood from collapsed buildings to burn for warmth, Menu said. She said many residents are not returning to their houses, opting instead to sleep on rooftops or in the streets. It was not clear whether their homes were uninhabitable or they were just too frightened. Electricity and natural gas were off in most of the city, but Atalay said officials hope to restore power in Van and Ercis by Monday night. Trucks carrying medical aid and food were seen driving into Van. But rescue teams had not reached some of the smaller villages, Mengu said.


A student dormitory was among the buildings that collapsed, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said. At least 10 students died in the collapse, freelance reporter Dorian Jones told CBC News Network from Istanbul. “Turkey is bracing itself for more bad news,” he said. Jones said there are fears that many villages in the areas have been divested. “In some villages, all of the houses have been leveled. [In] one village alone, six children died,” he said. (CBC)


“There are so many dead,” Zulfikar Arapoglu, the mayor of Ecris, told NTV television. “Several buildings have collapsed, there is too much destruction. We need urgent aid, we need medics.” (CBC)


One man, stuck in the fetal position under a large piece of debris, was visible only through a small hole in the rubble. The man appeared weak and exhausted after rescuers pulled him out, his clothes torn. At one point, rescue workers halted operations to try to hear whether anyone was knocking for help.


Survivor Yalcin Akay was dug from a collapsed six-story building with a leg injury after he called a police emergency line on his phone and described his location, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. Three other people, including two children, were also rescued from the same building in the city of Ecris some 20 hours after the quake struck, officials said. A fifth survivor, Tugba Atinkaynak, a 21-year-old woman, was rescued from the rubble after being trapped for roughly 27 hours.


“We stayed outdoors all night, I could not sleep at all, my children, especially the little one, was terrified,” said Serpil Bilici of her six-year-old daughter, Rabia. “I grabbed her and rushed out when the quake hit, we were all screaming. Bilici, a mother of five children aged between six and 16, said her house had only cracks, but her family was too afraid to go back inside. She lost one relative in the quake. (CBC)


A woman who lost her parents sat on the ground metres away from another crumpled building, sobbing as relatives tried to comfort her.


While daytime highs will reach 13 C over the next couple of days with only a few showers, overnight temperatures are expected to plunge to the freezing mark on Monday night. “That’s going to be a challenge for us,” said Alper Kucuk, the executive officer for international relations at the Turkish Red Crescent. “We are trying our best, but we don’t want to lose our hope because we are still saving the lives of people in the region.” (CBC)


Around 1,275 rescue teams from 38 provinces were being sent to the region, officials said, and troops were also assisting search and rescue efforts.


The Red Crescent called for rescue workers, machinery and drinking water. A crisis center was set up by the country’s Health Ministry in the Turkish capital of Ankara. By Monday, more than 2,300 emergency personnel were in the region, Atalay said. Tents and rescue teams have have come from as far away as Iran and Azerbaijan. The crisis center said Sunday that 29 surrounding towns had sent help and medical helicopters were taking the injured for treatment in other provinces. Thirty-seven patients were taken to Ankara, Atalay said Monday. Two tent hospitals were being set up in Ecris on Sunday, and two cargo planes were dispatched from the capital carrying medical teams and aid. Erdogan and Akdag arrived in the area Sunday, according to the Ministry of Health’s crisis center.


Some survivors in the ethnic Kurd areas complained that not enough help was reaching them. “Tents will not be enough – we do not have food, no rescue teams have reached here yet,” said Serif Tarakci, an official from the village of Halkali, about 50 km (30 miles) from Van. “It’s cold cold at night, everybody is outside and we’re freezing here,” the New York Times quoted him as saying.


Another resident of Van said that tents were in short supply. “All the nylon tents are in the black market now,” Ibrahim Baydar, a 40-year-old tradesman from Van, told Reuters news agency. “We cannot find any. People are queuing for them. No tents were given to us whatsoever,” he said. (BBC)


Some of the rescue workers have complained of a lack of adequate equipment, said the Hurriyet Daily News. “We are working with primitive tools, we have no equipment,” one rescuer told the Turkish newspaper. (BBC)


Israel offered Turkey “any help it may require” after the earthquake, Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office said. (CNN) Israel and Turkey, once close allies, saw a deterioration in relations in a dispute over an Israeli naval commando raid on the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.


A spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the country, while grateful for offers of aid, is prepared to handle the disaster on its own. Prime Minister Erdogan thanked other countries for their offers of help, but said Turkey could cope with the disaster on its own.


Turkey is “no stranger to having these seismic events,” but Sunday’s quake is considered major,  CNN Meteorologist Reynolds Wolf said. A magnitude-7.6 earthquake in Izmit, Turkey, killed more than 17,000 people in 1999, according to the United States Geological Survey. A magnitude-7.2 tremor in Duzce the same year killed 894 people, the agency reported.


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