7.2 Magnitude Earthquake Rocks Turkey
ERCIS, Turkey (AP) — Four people were pulled alive from the rubble Monday when one managed to call for help on his cell phone after a 7.2-magnitude quake leveled buildings and killed some 270 people in eastern Turkey.
Dozens of people were trapped in mounds of concrete, twisted steel and construction debris after hundreds of buildings in two cities and mud-brick homes in nearby villages pancaked or partially collapsed in the earthquake that struck Sunday afternoon.
Worst-hit was Ercis — an eastern city of 75,000 close to the Iranian border that lies in one of Turkey's most earthquake-prone zones — where about 80 multistory buildings collapsed.
Yalcin Akay was dug out from a collapsed six-story building with a leg injury after he called a police emergency line on his phone and described his location, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. Three others, including two children, were also rescued from the same building in Ercis some 20 hours after the quake struck, officials said.
Rescuers searched for the missing throughout the night under generator-powered floodlights as tearful families members waited by the mounds of debris. Cranes and other heavy equipment lifted slabs of concrete, allowing residents to dig for the missing with shovels.
Aid groups scrambled to set up tents, field hospitals and kitchens to help the thousands left homeless or those too afraid to re-enter their homes.
"We stayed outdoors all night, I could not sleep at all, my children, especially the little one, was terrified," said Serpil Bilici of her six-year-old daughter, Rabia. "I grabbed her and rushed out when the quake hit, we were all screaming."
Over 100 aftershocks rocked the area Monday morning, with three of them reaching 4.7 magnitude, after another 100 aftershocks reverberated Sunday.
The bustling, larger city of Van, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Ercis, also sustained substantial damage, but Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said search efforts there were winding down.
Sahin expected the death toll in Ercis to rise, but not as much as initially feared. He told reporters rescue teams were searching for survivors in the ruins of 47 buildings — including a cafe where dozens could be trapped.
"There could be around 100 people (in the rubble). It could be more or it could be less," Sahin said. "But we are not talking about thousands."
He told Associated Press Television that around 270 were killed and more than a thousand others were injured.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who inspected the area late Sunday, said "close to all" mud-brick homes in surrounding villages had collapsed in the temblor that also rattled parts of Iran and Armenia.
In Ercis, a team specializing in mine disaster rescue combed through the rubble of a student dormitory.
"Four or five (apartments) have been leveled," team member Mustafa Bilgin said. "University students are said to be living here. We don't know how many of them are still inside, we've reached their computers, clothing but we did not see anyone."
Dozens of people huddled around the building, silently watching the rescue work.
Women carried buckets to collect food from a soup kitchen as frequent aftershocks jolted the town.
Bilici, a mother of five children between six and 16, said her house had only cracks but her family was too afraid to go back inside. She lost one relative in the quake.
A woman who lost her parents sat on the ground near another crumpled building, sobbing as relatives tried to comfort her.
The terrifying moments of the powerful temblor still haunted many.
"I was in the street and saw the buildings sway," Hasan Ceylan, 48, surveying the wreckage of his three businesses, including a grocery store and a veterinary clinic.
Abubekir Acar, 42, was sipping tea with his friends across from a coffee house that was leveled.
"We did not understand what was going on, the buildings around us, the coffee house all went down so quickly," he said. "For a while, we could not see anything — everywhere was covered in dust. Then, we heard screams and pulled out anyone we could reach."
The government said it would offer favorable loans to help rebuild small businesses.
Authorities advised people to stay away from damaged homes, warning they could collapse in the aftershocks. Exhausted residents began sheltering in tents, some set up inside a sports stadium, after many spent the night outdoors lighting fires to keep warm. Others sought shelter with relatives in nearby villages.
More than 2,000 teams were involved in search-and-rescue and aid efforts, using around a dozen sniffer dogs.
Several countries offered assistance but Erdogan said Turkey was able to cope for the time being. Azerbaijan, Iran and Bulgaria still sent aid, he said.
Among those offering help were Israel, Greece and Armenia. The offer from Israel came despite a rift in relations following a 2010 Israeli navy raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turks dead. Greece, which has a deep dispute with Turkey over the divided island of Cyprus, also offered to send in a special earthquake rescue team.
Armenian president Serge Sarkisian proposed help during talks in Moscow with Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev, when the two leaders called their Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, Anatolia reported. Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic ties due to tensions over the Ottoman-era mass killings of Armenians and the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, a separatist region in neighboring Azerbaijan.
Leaders around the world conveyed their condolences and offered assistance.
"We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Turkish ally in this difficult time, and are ready to assist," President Barack Obama said.
Israeli President Shimon Peres telephoned Gul to offer assistance.
"Israel shares in your sorrow," Peres said. "Israel is ready to render any assistance that may be required anywhere in Turkey, at any time."
Turkey lies in one of the world's most active seismic zones and is crossed by numerous fault lines. In 1999, two earthquakes with a magnitude of more than 7 struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people.
More recently, a 6.0-magnitude quake in March 2010 killed 51 people in eastern Turkey, while in 2003, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake killed 177 people in the southeastern city of Bingol.
Istanbul, the country's largest city with more than 12 million people, lies in northwestern Turkey near a major fault line. Experts have warned that overcrowding and shoddy construction in Istanbul could kill tens of thousands if a major earthquake struck there.