ISTANBUL: The death toll from a powerful earthquake in eastern Turkey reached 22 on Saturday, as rescuers searched for survivors trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings.
The magnitude 6.8 quake late on Friday shook Elazig province, about 550 km east of the capital Ankara, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Authority (AFAD).
Eighteen people were killed in Elazig and four more in the neighbouring province of Malatya while 1,243 others were injured in the region. AFAD said rescue efforts are being carried at three sites in Elazig.
Turkish broadcasters showed footage of rescuers pulling people out from under the debris, some around 19 hours after the quake. AFAD later said 42 people had been rescued so far.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said an estimated 22 people were still trapped under debris. Health Minster Fahrettin Koca said 128 wounded people were receiving treatment while 34 of those were in intensive care but not in critical condition. He said additional medical centres would be set up if necessary.
Rescue teams worked through the night to remove bricks and plaster from collapsed buildings in Elazig, where the overnight temperature dipped to -8 degrees Celsius.
President Tayyip Erdogan cancelled his plans in Istanbul on Saturday and went to Elazig to inspect the rescue efforts. He also attended a funeral for a woman and her son killed in the quake, which he described as a “test” for Turkey.
“We are doing everything we can as the state and nation, and we will continue to do so. Our efforts at all rescue sites will continue,” he said at the funeral, adding the state house developer would make sure no one was left “hungry or in the open.”
Local media in Lebanon said the cities of Beirut and Tripoli also felt the quake. On Friday night, Turkish interior Soylu described it as a ‘Level 3’ incident according to the country’s emergency response plan, meaning it called for a national response but did not require international help.
He said Turkey had learnt lessons from previous disasters which helped it address Friday’s incident. Drones were deployed in search operations and to communicate between provinces.
Emergency teams and rescue equipment were sent from other provinces to Elazig, with thousands of rescuers and medical personnel on the ground to look for and help survivors. Flag-carrier Turkish Airlines started additional flights to Elazig from Ankara and Istanbul to help transport rescuers.
The rescue agency AFAD warned residents not to return to damaged buildings because of the danger from aftershocks. It said beds, blankets and tents were sent to the area, where some people sheltered in sports gymnasiums.
AFAD said authorities had identified 81 heavily damaged buildings and 53 lightly damaged structures in Elazig and Malatya. It said there were also 30 collapsed buildings in the two provinces.
Turkey has a history of powerful earthquakes. More than 17,000 people were killed in August 1999 when a 7.6 magnitude quake struck the western city of Izmit. In 2011, an earthquake struck the eastern city of Van and the town of Ercis killing at least 523 people.