ELAZIG (TURKEY): A powerful earthquake has killed at least 18 people and injured hundreds in eastern Turkey, as rescue teams searched through the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors early on Saturday.
At least 30 people were missing following the magnitude 6.8 quake, which had its epicentre in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in the eastern province of Elazig. “It was very scary, furniture fell on top of us. We rushed outside,” 47-year-old Melahat Can, who lives in the provincial capital of Elazig, told AFP.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said all steps were being taken to aid people affected by the quake, which caused widespread fear. “We stand by our people,” Erdogan said on Twitter. People who fled their homes in panic were lighting fires in the streets to stay warm in freezing temperatures.
The Turkish government’s disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said the quake hit Sivrice at around 8.55 pm (1755 GMT). Turkey lies on major faultlines and is prone to frequent earthquakes.
Turkish television showed images of people rushing outside in panic, as well as a fire on the roof of a building. Interior, environment and health ministers said at least 18 people were killed, 13 of them in Elazig province and five others in the neighbouring province of Malatya, which lies to the southwest.
Some 553 people were injured, they said. “There is nobody trapped under the rubble in Malatya but in Elazig search and rescue efforts are currently under way to find 30 citizens,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said.
Rescue teams were searching for survivors trapped in a five-storey collapsed building in a village some 30 kilometres from Elazig, according to AFP journalists at the scene. One person was pulled alive from the rubble. Sports centres, schools and guest houses had been opened to accommodate quake victims in Malatya.
Everybody is in the street
Sivrice — a town with a population of about 4,000 people — is situated south of Elazig city on the shores of Hazar lake — one of the most popular tourist spots in the region and the source of the Tigris river. The lake is home to a “Sunken City”, with archaeological traces dating back 4,000 years in its waters.
The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders, the Turkish broadcaster NTV reported, adding that neighbouring cities had mobilised rescue teams for the quake area.
“Everybody is in the street, it was very powerful, very scary,” said Zekeriya Gunes, 68, from Elazig city, after the quakes caused a building to collapse on her street. “It lasted quite long, maybe 30 seconds,” added Ferda, 39. “I panicked and was undecided whether to go out in this cold or remain inside.”
The USGS put the magnitude as 6.7, adding that it struck near the East Anatolian Fault in an area that has suffered no documented large ruptures since an earthquake in 1875.
“My wholehearted sympathy to President @RTErdogan and the Turkish people following the devastating earthquake that has hit Turkey. Our search and rescue teams stand ready to assist,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote on Twitter.
In Athens, the Greek premier’s office said later that Mitsotakis had spoken by phone to Erdogan. “The Turkish president… said Turkish teams had the situation under control for now and that it would be re-evaluated in the morning,” his office added.
In 1999, a devastating 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit in western Turkey, leaving more than 17,000 people dead including about 1,000 in the country’s largest city Istanbul. In September last year, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Istanbul, causing residents to flee buildings in the economic capital.
Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate the city of 15 million people, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.