Turkey quake death toll reaches 217, set to rise

Country's interior minister says 7.2 magnitude quake kills 100 in city of Van and 117 in badly hit town of Ercis; 1,090 people known to be injured; Erdogan: Unknown number of people unaccounted for.

By REUTERS
October 24, 2011 05:54
2 minute read.
Rescue workers after earthquake in Turkey

Rescue workers after earthquake in Turkey 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Abdurrahman Antakyali/Anadolu Agency)

 
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At least 217 people were confirmed killed and hundreds more feared dead after an earthquake hit parts of southeast Turkey on Sunday with rescue teams working through the night to free trapped survivors.

Early on Monday Turkish Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said the 7.2 magnitude quake killed 100 in the city of Van and 117 in the badly hit town of Ercis, 100 km (60 miles) further north. The death toll was expected to rise.

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Overseeing emergency operations in Ercis, Sahin said a total of 1,090 people were known to have been injured. Hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Rescue efforts struggled to get into full swing following the quake, with electricity cut off as darkness fell on the towns and villages on the barren Anatolian steppe near the border with Iran.

Survivors and emergency service workers searched frantically through broken concrete, using hands, shovels and torches or working under floodlights powered by mobile generators.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said there were an unknown number of people unaccounted for under the collapsed buildings of the stricken towns, and he feared the worst for villagers living in outlying rural areas, who had still to be reached.

"Because the buildings are made of adobe, they are more vulnerable to quakes. I must say that almost all buildings in such villages are destroyed," Erdogan told a televised news conference in Van shortly after midnight on Sunday.

Scores of strong aftershocks have jolted the region in the hours since the quake struck on Sunday.

In Van, a bustling and ancient city on a lake ringed by snow-capped mountains and with a population of 1 million, cranes shifted rubble off a crumpled six-storey apartment block where bystanders said 70 people were trapped.

Erdogan visited Ercis earlier by helicopter to assess first hand the scale of the disaster. With 55 buildings flattened, including a student dormitory, the level of destruction in Ercis, a town of 100,000, was greater than in Van, where fewer came down.

"We don't know how many people are in the ruins of collapsed buildings, it would be wrong to give a number," he said.

Reuters television images from Ercis showed rescuers trying to clam one young boy, aged about 10, pinned beneath a concrete slab.

"Be patient, be patient," they pleaded as the boy whimpered. The lifeless hand of an adult, with a wedding ring, was visible just a few centimeters (inches) in front of his face.

The military issued a statement saying two battalions had been sent to assist the relief operations.

Soldiers were deployed in the town to help rescuers and digging machines had also arrived to help. There was a constant wail of ambulance sirens ferrying the injured to hospitals.

Dogan news agency reported that 24 people were pulled from the rubble alive in the two hours after midnight.

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