Quake death toll exceeds 270 as efforts underway to rescue hundreds

At least 270 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

Rescue workers work to save people trapped under debris after an earthquake in Erciş, near the eastern Turkish city of Van, early Oct. 24, 2011. (Photo: Reuters) (Click on the picture to see more photos from quake-hit area)

Rescue workers work to save people trapped under debris after an earthquake in Erciş, near the eastern Turkish city of Van, early Oct. 24, 2011. (Photo: Reuters) (Click on the picture to see more photos from quake-hit area)

Rescuers clawed through rubble on Monday to free people trapped by a powerful earthquake that killed at least 270 people and wounded more than 1,000 in the eastern province of Van.     

Hundreds more were feared dead, as Turkey’s most powerful quake in a decade toppled remote villages of mud brick houses.    

As some desperate survivors cried for help from beneath mounds of smashed concrete and twisted metal, earthmoving machines and soldiers joined the search after Sunday’s 7.2 magnitude quake struck the city of Van and the town of Ercis, some 100 km (60 miles) to the north.    

Rescue teams on Monday sifted through rubble of flattened multistory buildings to try to reach dozens of people believed trapped beneath after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey.  Turkish officials on Monday announced that the death toll in the powerful quake has increased to 270.

The Education Ministry also announced on Monday that among the people who died in the earthquake were 22 teachers and eight students.

Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, coordinating the government’s response at the quake zone in Van province, told a news conference on Monday that tents were being assembled and food distributed as part of a major relief and rescue operation.

Hundreds of rescue teams worked throughout the night searching for survivors among dozens of pancaked buildings, as aid groups scrambled to set up tents, field hospitals and kitchens to assist thousands left homeless.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan flew swiftly to Van to assess the scale of the disaster in a quake-prone area that is also a hotbed of activity for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).    

Erdoğan said he feared for the fate of villages which rescue teams had yet to reach. “Because the buildings are made of mud brick, they are more vulnerable to quakes. I must say that almost all buildings in such villages are destroyed,” he told an overnight news conference in Van.    

Erdoğan later returned to Ankara for a Cabinet meeting to discuss the response to the disaster. He said Turkey could cope by itself, but thanked nations offering help, including Armenia and Israel, which both have strained relations with Ankara.    

The İstanbul-based Kandilli seismology center originally reported that the magnitude was 6.6, but later corrected it to 7.2. The quake occurred at 1:41 p.m. Its epicenter was in the village of Tabanli in the eastern province of Van, bordering Iran, but the quake was also felt in the province’s city center as well as the neighboring provinces of Bitlis, Muş, Batman, Diyarbakır and Hakkari. The quake struck at a depth of 5 kilometers.

Kandilli Director Professor Mustafa Erdik also said the quake caused the most serious damage in Van and Erciş and they predicted the death toll to be as high as 1,000.

Şahin said at least 80 multi-storey buildings collapsed in the earthquake.

Authorities advised people to stay away from damaged homes, warning they could collapse in the aftershocks.

The Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) said about 100 experts had reached the earthquake zone to coordinate rescue and relief operations. Some 5,000 tents and 11,000 blankets, stoves and food were being distributed and mobile kitchens were set up to feed those made homeless. Sniffer dogs had joined the quest for survivors.    

At Van airport, a Turkish Airlines cargo plane unloaded aid materials onto waiting military vehicles for distribution.    

Rescue efforts went deep into the night under generator-powered floodlights. Workers tied steel rods around large concrete slabs in Van, then lifted them with heavy machinery.

International  offers of aid poured in from NATO, China, Japan, the United States, Azerbaijan, European countries and Israel, whose ties with Ankara have soured since Israeli commandoes killed nine Turks during a raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip in 2010.

Major geological fault lines cross Turkey and small earthquakes are a near daily occurrence. Two large quakes in 1999 killed more than 20,000 people in northwest Turkey.     

An earthquake struck Van province in November 1976 with 5,291 confirmed dead. Two people were killed and 79 injured in May when an earthquake shook Simav in northwest Turkey.



24 October 2011, Monday / TODAYSZAMAN.COM WITH WIRES,