Magnitude 6 earthquake hits eastern Turkey; at least 57 dead as stone homes, minarets tumble

By Kadir Konuksever, AP
Monday, March 8, 2010

6.0 earthquake hits eastern Turkey, kills 57

OKCULAR, Turkey — A strong, pre-dawn earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6 struck eastern Turkey on Monday, killing 57 people as it knocked down stone or mud-brick houses and minarets in at least six villages, the government said.

Turkey’s crisis center said about 100 other people were injured in the quake, which hit at 4:32 a.m. (0232 GMT, 9 p.m. EST Sunday) in Elazig province, about 340 miles (550 kilometers) east of Ankara, the capital.

The earthquake, which caught many people as they slept, was centered near the village of Basyurt and followed by more than 50 aftershocks, the strongest measuring 5.5 and 5.3, the Kandilli seismology center said.

The worst-hit area was the village of Okcular, where some 17 people were killed and homes crumbled into piles of dirt. As relatives rushed in for news of their loved ones, authorities blocked access to Okcular so ambulances and rescue teams could maneuver on the village’s narrow roads. Villagers lit fires to keep warm.

“The village is totally flattened,” village administrator Hasan Demirdag told private NTV television.

Ali Riza Ferhat of Okcular said he was woken up by the jolt.

“I tried to get out of the door but it wouldn’t open. I came out of the window and started helping my neighbors,” he told NTV television. “We removed six bodies.”

Another 13 people were killed in the village of Yukari Demirci, Gov. Muammer Erol said, adding that by noon everyone had been removed from the rubble and there was no one left buried inside the debris.

“Everything has been knocked down, there is not a stone in place,” said Yadin Apaydin, administrator for the village of Yukari Kanatli, where he said at least three people died.

The quake was also felt in the neighboring provinces of Tunceli, Bingol and Diyarbakir, where residents fled to the streets in panic and stayed outdoors. Schools were closed for two days in the region. In Tunceli province, students were sent home after the quake caused a school’s walls to crack, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

The Elazig quake follows deadly temblors in Haiti and Chile, but Bernard Doft, the seismologist for the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, said there was no direct connection between the three.

“These events are too far apart to be of direct influence to each other,” he said.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kandilli Observatory’s director, Mustafa Erdik, urged residents not to enter any damaged homes, warning that they could topple from aftershocks that Erdik said could last for days.

Erdogan blamed the mud-brick constructions for the deaths and said the government was instructing its housing agency to construct quake-prone homes in the area.

Television footage showed rescue workers and soldiers at Okcular lifting debris as villagers looked on. Rescuers dug into the dirt, finding the body of an elderly man, and quickly covered him with a sheet.

Two women sat on mattresses wrapped in blankets. The temblor also knocked down barns, killing farm animals.

Turkey’s Red Crescent organization sent tents and blankets to the region. Erdogan said ambulance helicopters, prefabricated homes and mobile kitchens were also being sent.

Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, much of which lies on top of two main fault lines. In 1999, two powerful earthquakes struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people.

In 2007, an earthquake measuring 5.7 damaged buildings in Elazig, briefly trapping a woman under debris. In 2003, an earthquake measuring 6.4 magnitude collapsed a school dormitory in the neighboring province of Bingol, killing 83 children. The collapse was blamed on poor construction.


Associated Press Writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Arthur Max in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, contributed to the report.

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