International

Death toll hits 31 in Turkish earthquake; over 1,500 hurt

People look at a collapsed building after a 6.8 earthquake struck Elazig city centre in the eastern Turkey, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020.

People look at a collapsed building after a 6.8 earthquake struck Elazig city centre in the eastern Turkey, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AP

The Turkish government's disaster and emergency management agency said 43 people had been rescued alive from collapsed buildings in Elazig, while an estimated 19 still remained trapped in the rubble.

The death toll from a powerful earthquake which struck eastern Turkey rose to 31, officials said Sunday, as rescue efforts continued.

The magnitude 6.8 quake hit on Friday evening, with its epicentre in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in Elazig province but also affected neighbouring cities and countries.

The Turkish government's disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said 31 people died, the majority in Elazig but at least four in nearby Malatya, and 1,607 were injured.

Rescuers scrambled all of Saturday and searched Sunday to rescue people alive from under the rubble. The latest number of individuals rescued was 45, according to AFAD.

Nearly 80 buildings collapsed while 645 were heavily damaged in Elazig and Malatya, the agency said in a statement.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised Saturday that Turkey's housing agency TOKI would "do whatever is necessary and make sure no one is left without a home".

He attended the funeral of a woman and her son in Elazig Saturday, later visiting Malatya after cancelling a speech in Istanbul.

Freezing temperatures

Almost 24 hours after the quake, officials then rescued a woman and her two-year-old child in her arms alive, CNN Turk broadcaster reported. Over 3,500 search and rescue personnel were working in the region while tens of thousands of beds, blankets and tents have been provided, the presidency said.

The rescue efforts have been taking place in freezing temperatures as wood and plastic were burned to keep crowds warm. Hundreds of people anxiously waited on the other side of police barriers including a man who gave his name as Mustafa.

"I have three relatives in that building: one man, his wife and her mother," the 40-year-old told AFP. "I was home during the earthquake. It lasted for so long, it was like a nightmare. I froze in the living room when it happened, my wife and our two children were screaming and running around," he said.

He added that some neighbours jumped out of the windows in panic as families including his were forced to spend Friday night on the streets. Rescuers cleared the rubble one bucket at a time surrounded by broken wooden beams and concrete.

'Screaming in terror'

Sivrice ⁠— a town with a population of about 4,000 ⁠— 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.

Among the 1,466 people injured were residents in other southeast provinces including Diyarbakir and Sanliurfa. Tensions were high as one resident accused the government of lying. "They (the government) claim that only four people are trapped under the rubble. It is not true. I have five relatives in that building," Suat, a 45-year-old butcher, said.

"There are four floors and three flats per floor. If there were five people per flat, do the math. Why are they lying?" Suat described the moment when the quake struck as he was at home in another neighbourhood and his children "were screaming in terror".

The Ankara public prosecutor's office said it had begun an investigation into "provocative" social media posts but did not give further details. Erdogan also told citizens to "ignore gossip and negative propaganda".

Tremor felt elsewhere

The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders as well as in Iran, Lebanon and Syria Officials said 72 buildings had collapsed while 514 were badly damaged and 409 had limited damage in the affected region.

The US Geological Survey assessed the magnitude as 6.7, slightly lower than AFAD, adding that it struck near the East Anatolian Fault in an area that has suffered no documented large ruptures since an earthquake in 1875. There have been 462 aftershocks including 14 that were above four in magnitude, AFAD said.

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 Istanbul.

Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate the city of 15 million people, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.

Such fears were acutely awakened in September last year when a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Istanbul, causing residents to flee buildings in the economic capital.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 10:20:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/powerful-quake-hits-eastern-turkey/article30648259.ece

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