Istanbul – At least 240 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured after a powerful earthquake shook eastern Turkey, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said on Monday.
In a televised statement, Mr. Atalay said that rescue workers continued to search for survivors and reach the dead in and around the city of Van, close to Turkey’s eastern border with Iran. News agencies reported that up 270 people had died.
More than 200 aftershocks shook the area throughout the night, the Turkish Seismic Institute said on Monday.
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In Ercis, a town about 30 miles from Van, more than 120 people were reported dead and in Van at least 100 people died after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Sunday.
Around 350 injuries were reported in Van and more than 700 in Ercis and surrounding villages, the semi-official Anatolian Agency reported.
Thousands of frightened residents spent the night in the streets, huddled around fires and wrapped in blankets and layers of clothing, television footage showed. Aid agencies throughout the country joined together to deliver blankets and warm clothing to the region where temperatures fall below freezing in early autumn.
Despite news reports that many villages were left without assistance, Mr. Atalay said that relief supplies were distributed to all areas around Van.
Around 7,000 tents were distributed in Van and another 5,000 in Ercis and field kitchens were available for up to 25,000, he said in a broadcast statement.
Yalcin Akay, a resident of Ercis, was rescued from the rubble of a six-storey building after he contacted emergency workers on his cellphone and directed the teams to his location, Anatolian Agency reported.
Video taken almost immediately after the earthquake showed hundreds of people in Van running through a cloud of smoke in one of the city’s main streets, crying and shouting in panic. As the full extent of the damage became clear, desperate survivors dug with bare hands into the collapsed steel and concrete, trying to rescue the trapped and the injured, various television channels showed.
People used flashlights to search for survivors trapped under piles of rubble. Videos on television showed cranes working around some of the collapsed buildings, while aid workers periodically called for silence to try to detect signs of life under huge chunks of concrete.
In Van, the walls of a prison collapsed, and about 200 inmates escaped, NTV reported; about 50 prisoners were later recaptured.
More than 1,270 aid workers from 38 nearby towns were sent to Van and Ercis to help in the relief efforts, while other nations, including Israel, offered assistance.
Israel’s offer came as a diplomatic standoff has virtually frozen relations between the two countries, in the aftermath of a raid that killed nine people by Israeli commandos last year trying to halt a Turkish aid flotilla bound for Gaza.
In a statement, President Obama offered condolences to the victims’ families. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the brave men and women who are working to bring assistance to this stricken region,” Mr. Obama said. “We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Turkish ally in this difficult time, and are ready to assist the Turkish authorities.”
Units of the Turkish Army were sent to the mountainous region in the east, and the Health Ministry assembled 145 ambulances and 500 staff members to help coordinate the medical operation, the Anatolian News Agency reported.
The Turkish Red Crescent sent tents, blankets and other supplies to the area. Earthquakes take place frequently in Turkey, which is crisscrossed by fault lines, and both the government and the Red Crescent are expected to act more effectively in organizing rescue and relief operations. In 1999, thousands of people were killed by two powerful earthquakes in northwestern Turkey.
“Tents will not be enough — we do not have food, no rescue teams have reached here yet,” said Serif Tarakci, an official from the village of Halkali, about 30 miles from the city of Van. “It’s cold at night, everybody is outside and we’re freezing here.” Temperatures in the region were about 34 degrees late on Sunday night.