The death toll from a strong earthquake that rocked eastern Turkey has climbed to 22 with more than 1,000 people injured, emergency officials have said.
- Turkey’s health minister has warned the number of dead could increase further
- The earthquake was reportedly felt in neighbouring countries Georgia and Lebanon
- Drones have been deployed in rescue and communications operations
The massive quake shook Elazig province, about 550 kilometres east of the capital Ankara, late on Friday (local time).
Various earthquake monitoring centres gave magnitudes ranging from 6.5 to 6.8. The main quake was followed by more than 390 aftershocks, 12 of which had magnitudes over 4.
“Our houses collapsed … we cannot go inside them,” said a 32-year-old man from the town of Sivrice, epicentre of the quake which struck shortly before 9:00pm.
Mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories were opened for hundreds who left their homes after the quake.
Eighteen people were killed in Elazig and four more in the neighbouring province of Malatya, said Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Authority (AFAD), adding 1,031 others were injured and in hospitals in the region.
It said rescue efforts were underway at three different sites in Elazig.
“We have approximately 30 residents under the wreckage in Elazig,” said Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, as quoted by state-run news agency Anadolu.
Teams worked through the night with their hands, drills and mechanical diggers to remove bricks and plaster from the ruins in the province where the overnight temperature dipped to -8 degrees Celsius.
Mr Koca said that search and rescue efforts were ongoing and that the death toll could continue to rise.
Emergency teams and rescue equipment were sent from other provinces to Elazig after the quake, with thousands of rescuers and medical personnel on the ground during rescue efforts.
The Turkish Red Crescent said it had mobilised teams to the affected areas and had a crisis desk in Ankara working “around the clock”.
Flag-carrier Turkish Airlines started additional flights to Elazig from Ankara and Istanbul to help transport rescuers.
Drones were deployed in search operations and to communicate between provinces.
“The earthquake was very severe, we desperately ran out [of our home],” Emre Gocer told Anadolu as he sheltered with his family at a sports hall in the town of Sivrice in Elazig.
“We don’t have a safe place to stay right now.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter overnight that all measures were being taken to “ensure that the earthquake that occurred in Elazig and was felt in many provinces is overcome with the least amount of loss.”
Media reports suggested that the earthquake was felt far away, including in the neighbouring countries of Georgia, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
“Our biggest hope is that the death toll does not rise,” Turkey’s parliamentary speaker Mustafa Sentop said.
Turkey sits on top of two major fault lines and has a history of powerful earthquakes.
Two strong earthquakes struck northwest Turkey in 1999, killing around 18,000 people and destroying the homes of 500,000.
In 2011, an earthquake struck the eastern city of Van and the town of Ercis, some 100 km to the north, killing at least 523 people.