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Rescuers scramble to find survivors after Turkey quake kills 22

ELAZIG, Turkey: This handout aerial picture shows rescue workers searching for survivors in the rubble of a building after an earthquake yesterday. – AFP

ELAZIG, Turkey: Rescue workers raced against time yesterday to find survivors under the rubble after a powerful earthquake claimed 22 lives and left more than 1,200 injured in eastern Turkey. The magnitude 6.8 quake struck on Friday evening, with its epicenter in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in Elazig province, and was felt across neighboring countries.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cancelled a speech in Istanbul and headed to Elazig where he attended the funeral of a woman and her son, which he described as a “test” for Turkey. “We are doing everything we can as the state and nation, and we will continue to do so. Our efforts at all rescue sites will continue,” he said at the funeral, adding state house developer TOKI would make sure no one was left “hungry or in the open”.

HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah sent yesterday a cable of condolences to Erdogan. The Amir expressed deepest condolences for the families of the victims and wished speedy recovery for the injured. HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah also condoled with Erdogan on the victims of the earthquake, which also destroyed public and private properties. HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah sent a similar cable.

The Turkish government’s disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said 42 people had been rescued alive from collapsed buildings in Elazig. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said earlier yesterday 22 people were estimated to be trapped under the rubble. Turkish news channels showed live images of people rescued. Among those found alive was a woman called Azize who had contacted emergency authorities and spoken to a rescue worker by telephone, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Nearly 2,000 search and rescue personnel were sent to the region while 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 were anxiously waiting 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. They are still under the rubble,” 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 neighbors jumped out of the windows in panic as families including his were forced to spend Friday night on the streets. Some 20 rescuers were on top of the remains of one collapsed building, slowly clearing the rubble one bucket at a time surrounded by broken wooden beams and concrete.

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. The interior minister said 18 people were killed in Elazig while four died in Malatya. Among the 1,243 people injured were residents in other southeast provinces including Diyarbakir and Sanliurfa. Health minister Fahrettin Koca said no one was in a critical condition.

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 neighborhood 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”. The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders as well as in Iran, Lebanon and Syria.

Environment and Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum told reporters in Elazig that five buildings collapsed while others were badly or lightly damaged. 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 401 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. – Agencies

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