People rescue a woman trapped under debris after a powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey, collapsing about 45 buildings in Van province, killing an estimated 1000 people and causing widespread panic as dozens of buildings collapse.
An earthquake of 7.3 magnitude has rocked eastern Turkey, with a seismological institute saying up to 1000 people could lie dead under the rubble of dozens of collapsed buildings. Turkey's strongest earthquake in years struck Van, a large eastern city populated mainly by Kurds. 'Five hundred to 1000 people are estimated to have been killed in the quake,' Mustafa Erdik, director of the Kandilli seismological institute in Istanbul, told reporters.
Earlier reports had not mentioned casualties, but many were feared trapped in collapsed buildings and officials warned they were struggling to assess the extent of the damage. 'There is serious human and material loss,' said a brief statement from the national disaster body, which is based in the prime minister's office. Officials said about 50 buildings had collapsed, including a dormitory.
At least 50 people were taken to hospital in Van and nearly a thousand people in Ercis, a district of about 100,000 people in the same region, where the most serious damage occurred, according to media reports.
'Many buildings alongside a major street in Ercis were collapsed,' said an AFP photographer at the quake scene. 'There is electricity cut throughout district. People are using lanterns,' he said. Television footage showed panicked residents using shovels and other digging tools trying to rescue people trapped under a collapsed eight-storey building in the city centre. Search and rescue teams were using electrical generator lights to help the search for trapped victims as the night fell.
'An eight-storey apartment collapsed,' a local from Ercis told AFP. 'There are efforts to rescue people but the loss is big. I myself saw three to four dead,' he added. Most people are expected to spend the night outdoors, with the temperature expected to dip to 3C. 'People are panicked. The telecommunication services have collapsed. We cannot reach anybody,' Van Mayor Bekir Kaya told NTV television. The government was due to send satellite phones to the region, according to media reports. Six helicopters, including four ambulance helicopters, as well as C-130 military cargo planes were sent to the area carrying tents, food and medicine. The US Geological Survey measured the quake at 7.3 magnitude and said an aftershock of 5.6 magnitude had also been registered. It placed the epicentre of the aftershock, which happened at 1056 GMT (2156 AEDT) on Sunday 19 kilometres northeast of Van. The depth of the initial quake was 7.2 kilometres, according to the US seismologists. The depth of the aftershock was 20 kilometres, they added. The epicentre of the quake, which struck around 1041 GMT (2141 AEDT), was at Tabanli in Van province, the Kandilli institute said. The Turkish institute said there were two aftershocks which affected the villages of Ilikaynak and Gedikbulak in particular. The quake was also felt across the border in northwestern Iran, causing some panic in major cities, Iranian media reported, but without any mention of casualties or damage. Earthquake-prone Turkey lies atop several fault lines.
In 1999, two strong quakes in the heavily populated and industrialised regions of northwest Turkey left some 20,000 dead. And a powerful earthquake in the town of Caldiran in Van province killed 3840 people in 1976.