Turkey earthquake: Desperate search for survivors

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Media captionThe BBC's Emily Buchanan says rescue teams face a race against time

Rescue teams in Turkey are continuing to search for people trapped under rubble after a strong earthquake hit the eastern Van region on Sunday.

Some 265 people died and 1,140 were injured in the 7.2 magnitude quake, according to Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin.

Nearly 1,000 buildings have been destroyed in the disaster zone, with the town of Ercis the worst hit.

The death toll is expected to rise as outlying areas are reached.

Rescuers pulled out several survivors from beneath the ruins of collapsed buildings in Ercis on Monday - including one man who called for help on his mobile phone, Anatolia news agency said.

Cranes and heavy equipment are lifting slabs of concrete in Ercis and the larger city of Van as rescue crews cut through steel reinforcing bars and shift rubble in the search for more survivors.

The interior minister said he believed dozens of people were trapped in buildings in Ercis but not as many as initially feared.

"There could be around 100 people [in the rubble]," the Associated Press news agency quoted Mr Sahin as saying.

"It could be more or it could be less but we are not talking about thousands."

He said 169 people had died in Ercis and 96 in the Van area.

Up to 80 buildings, including a student dormitory, collapsed in Ercis, about 100km (60 miles) north of Van, while 10 fell in Van itself.

The office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a total of 970 buildings in the earthquake zone had collapsed.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford, in Ercis, says some 80 people are still missing at one collapsed apartment block, which once contained 20 flats.

Search crews and heavy machinery are still at work at some destroyed buildings, but at other sites the recovery effort seems to have stopped altogether, with only a few despairing and shocked relatives sitting around.

On Sunday, Mr Erdogan visited the area and said he feared for residents of outlying villages that rescue workers had not yet reached.

"Because the buildings are made of mud brick, they are more vulnerable to quakes," said Mr Erdogan.

"I must say that almost all buildings in such villages are destroyed."

Turkish seismologist Polat Gulkan told the BBC that building regulations were often ignored in Turkey.


Some 2,400 rescue workers are involved in the relief effort, as are 680 medics, 12 rescue dogs and 108 ambulances - including seven air ambulances, the prime minister's office said.

Tens of thousands slept outside in freezing conditions.

"We stayed outdoors all night, I could not sleep at all, my children, especially the little one, was terrified," Serpil Bilici told AP.

"I grabbed her and rushed out when the quake hit, we were all screaming."

One woman in Ercis begged rescue workers to find her friend, buried in a collapsed building.

"She's my friend and she called me to say that she's alive and she's stuck in the rubble near the stairs of the building," the woman told Reuters news agency.

Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay, who is co-ordinating the government's response in the earthquake zone, said tents were being assembled and food distributed.

Turkey's Red Crescent has set up tents in a sports stadium in Ercis.

Prime Minister Erdogan thanked other countries for their offers of help, but said Turkey could cope with the disaster on its own.

The earthquake struck at 13:41 (10:41 GMT) at a depth of 20km (12 miles), with its epicentre 16km north-east of Van in eastern Turkey, the US Geological Survey said.

About 200 aftershocks have hit the region, it added, including one of magnitude 6.0 late on Sunday.

Turkey is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes because it sits on major geological fault lines.

Two earthquakes in 1999 with a magnitude of more than 7 killed almost 20,000 people in densely populated parts of the north-west of the country.

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation

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