ELAZIG: Rescue workers remove corpses from the rubble of a building after an earthquake in Elazig, eastern Turkey yesterday. - AFP

ELAZIG: Hopes faded yesterday of finding more survivors from a powerful earthquake in eastern Turkey as more bodies were pulled from the rubble and the death toll climbed to 35. Nearly 4,000 rescue workers combed through debris in freezing temperatures, helped by mechanical diggers, in vain hopes of finding anyone alive in the city of Elazig.

Three bodies were found in the city centre, 38 hours after the 6.8-magnitude quake struck Friday evening, bringing the death toll to 35 in Elazig province and nearby Malatya, Vice President Fuat Oktay said. Rescuers carefully cleared the remains of the collapsed four-storey building where the bodies were found, using buckets to remove broken material as a sniffer dog was brought to the scene.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters that workers were searching for six people still under the rubble of the building. Residents nervously waited to find out what happened to their relatives. A group of women burst into tears when they learnt that the body of a relative was found, while one woman fainted, an AFP photographer said.

Nearby a Red Crescent official tried to calm down another woman whose cousin was missing, urging her to be patient. "We are doing everything we can." So far, the authorities say 45 people have been rescued alive but it is believed 14 people are still under the rubble in the region, according to NTV broadcaster. The government's disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said 1,607 were injured including 104 still in hospital, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

There was growing concern for residents amid the bitter cold, said Hasan Duran, a 58-year-old shopkeeper, who lives in Sursuru. "If it was summer, people could maybe resist a little longer. But with this cold, it's hard to imagine. Even we are freezing at home. May God give them strength". President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday "every effort was made to ensure citizens whose homes have collapsed or been damaged will not suffer in this winter period." He added every type of assistance was "swiftly" provided to the affected region from rescue workers to vehicles.

Mother, toddler found alive
The epicenter of the quake was in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in Elazig province, and also affected neighboring cities and countries. With a population of around 4,000, Sivrice is located south of Elazig city on the shores of Hazar lake - one of the most popular tourist spots in the region.

The US Geological Survey said the magnitude was 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 had been elation on Saturday when Ayse Yildiz and her two-year-old daughter were found alive by rescuers after 28 and 24 hours respectively. Nearly 80 buildings collapsed while 645 were heavily damaged in Elazig and Malatya provinces, AFAD said in a statement.

Erdogan had promised Saturday during a visit to Elazig that Turkey's housing agency TOKI would "do whatever is necessary and make sure no one is left without a home". Residents avoided returning to their homes because of aftershock fears. They included Mustafa Top who said he would "wait a week while the aftershocks continue and then we'll check (our apartment)." Since Friday's quake, there have been 714 aftershocks with 20 above four in magnitude. - AFP