The death toll from a strong earthquake that rocked eastern Turkey climbed to 22 Saturday, with more than 1,000 people injured, officials said. Rescue workers were searching for people buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings in Elazig province and neighboring Malatya, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, speaking at a televised news conference near the epicenter of the quake, said 39 people had been rescued from the rubble of collapsed buildings, including a woman recovered 14 hours after the main tremor.
Emergency workers and security forces distributed tents, beds and blankets as overnight temperatures dropped below freezing in the affected areas. Mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories were opened for hundreds who left their homes after the quake.
“The earthquake was very severe, we desperately ran out (of our home),” Emre Gocer told the state-run Anadolu news agency 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.”
The quake hit Friday at 8:55 p.m. local time near Sivrice, the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD, said. Various earthquake monitoring centers gave magnitudes ranging from 6.5 to 6.8.
AFAD said it was followed by 228 aftershocks, the strongest with magnitudes 5.4 and 5.1.
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.”
Neighboring Greece, which is at odds with Turkey over maritime boundaries and gas exploitation rights, offered to send rescue crews should they be needed.
Turkey sits on top of two major fault lines and earthquakes are frequent. Two strong earthquakes struck northwest Turkey in 1999, killing around 18,000 people.
A magnitude 6 earthquake killed 51 people in Elazig in 2010.