Up to 1000 People Feared Dead in Turkey Earthquake [Video]‎

As many as 1,000 people are feared dead after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck southeastern Turkey, resulting in the collapse of around 50 buildings in the province of Van.

A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.2  struck eastern Turkey on Sunday, killing at least 85 people and sparking widespread panic as it collapsed dozens of buildings into piles of twisted steel and chunks of concrete,  according to officials.

At least 85 people have been confirmed dead after the quake struck at 1.41pm local time (11.41 BST), with the highest number of casualties coming from the city of Ecris, a city of 90,000 some 15.5 miles from the epicentre Tabanli and more than 30 miles north of the provincial capital city of Van.

The state hospital reported 59 people had died and more than 400 injured were being treated four hours after the quake struck. The area was also hit by a series of aftershocks. Many patients are being treated in the garden of the hospital because it lacks sufficient capacity for all the wounded.

Based on the magnitude of the quake and the state of infrastructure in the region however, Turkey’s seismology institute estimated the casualty count between 500 and 1,000. “We estimate around 1,000 buildings are damaged and our estimate is for hundreds of lives lost. It could be 500 or 1,000,” said Mustafa Erdik, the general manager of the Kandilli Observatory.

In Van city, which has a population of around 500,000, citizens fled to the streets in panic after the first shock, trying to pull trapped people from under collapsed buildings and debris. “My wife and child are inside! My 4-month-old baby is inside!” CNN-Turk television showed one young man sobbing outside a collapsed building in Van, the provincial capital.

Teams from the state Search and Rescue Association’s branches in surrounding provinces began to reach the area around 5pm. Search and rescue personnel have also been sent to Van from cities as far away as Istanbul and Kocaeli in the country’s northwest. Last night they were scrambling to remove people from the body before nightfall, when temperatures drop close to freezing.

In anticipation of the pending numbers of homeless, more than 1,000 tents, and 500 food packages have been sent to Van by Turkish Red Crescent, the country’s largest humanitarian organisation.

Offers of aid from countries including the United States, Britain, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Switzerland and Greece began pouring in hours after the earthquake. Israel, whose relationship with Turkey has deteriorated in the last year, also said they were prepared to offer the Turkish government “any aid they might need”.

Ercis’s mayor, Zulfikar Arapoglu, also issued an urgent call for aid on NTV Television. “There are so many dead. Several buildings have collapsed, there is too much destruction,” he said. “We need urgent aid. We need medics.”

In the district of Celebibag, near Ercis, Mayor Veysel Keser said that countless people were still trapped under rubble. “We can hear the screams of people who are under the rubble, in agony,” he said. “Student dormitories, hotels and gas stations have collapsed.”

The airport at Van was also damaged, diverting planes to nearby cities and forcing relief teams to travel by road. Ercis also experienced the worst infrastructure damage, with 25 to 30 buildings collapsing in the city alone, according to Besir Atalay, the deputy prime minister.

Sunday’s earthquake had a relatively shallow depth of 12.2 miles, according to the US Geological Survey, which is likely to increase the damage wrought. Turkey’s prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, was travelling to Van to view the situation.

Van province lies several hundred miles east of the East Anatolian fault, one of Turkey’s most seismically active regions. Although the earthquake reportedly affected the surrounding provinces of Diyarbakir and Erzurum, residents in the capital cities of those provinces said they felt nothing when it occurred.

Turkey sees frequent earthquakes. 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.

Turkey’s worst earthquake in the last century came in 1939 in the eastern city of Erzincan, causing an estimated 160,000 deaths. Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city with more than 12 million people, lies in northwestern Turkey near a major fault line.

Authorities say Istanbul is ill-prepared for a major earthquake and experts have warned that overcrowding and faulty construction could lead to the deaths of over 40,000 people if a major earthquake struck the city. [via The Guardian (UK)]

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