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1,000 feared dead as 7.2 quake jolts Turkey

24 October, 2011

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VAN: At least 1,000 people were feared killed on Sunday when a powerful earthquake hit southeast Turkey, destroying dozens of buildings and trapping some victims alive under rubble.

As night fell, survivors and emergency workers battled to pull people out of the debris in the city of Van and town of Ercis, where a student dormitory collapsed.

Residents in Van joined in a frantic search, using hands and shovels and working under floodlights and flashlights, hearing voices of survivors crying for help under mounds of shattered concrete in pitch darkness and bitter cold.

Turkey's Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute said the magnitude 7.2 earthquake was five kilometers deep. It was among the strongest in Turkish history, and the worst since 1999.

Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said a dozen buildings collapsed in Van, an ancient city with a population of 1 million. Turkish media said 80 buildings, including a student dormitory, came down in Ercis, a city of 0.1 million people near the Iranian border. Ambulances, soldiers, emergency teams are everywhere now, working on getting people out of collapsed buildings.

Kandilli Observatory general manager Mustafa Erdik told a news conference he estimated hundreds of lives had been lost. "It could be 500 or 1,000," he added. He said he based his estimate on the magnitude of the earthquake and quality of construction.

A nurse at a public hospital in Ercis said hospital workers were attending the wounded in the hospital garden because the building was badly damaged.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was travelling to Van and the cabinet was expected to discuss the quake on Monday morning.

"A lot of buildings collapsed, many people were killed, but we don't know the number. We are waiting for emergency help, it's very urgent," Zulfukar Arapoglu, the mayor of Ercis, said.

Turkey's Red Crescent said one of its local teams was helping to rescue people from a student residence in Ercis. It sent had sent 1,200 tents, more than 4,000 blankets, stoves and food supplies, along with two mobile bakeries.

More than 70 aftershocks shook the area, further unsettling residents who ran into the streets when the initial quake struck. Television pictures showed rooms shaking and furniture toppling as people ran from one building.

Turkey has not yet made any call for international assistance but Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said earlier that Ankara had declined aid offered by the Jewish state.

End.

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