Turkish teams hunt for quake survivors as death toll hits 36
Rescue workers try to save people trapped under debris following a strong earthquake that destroyed several buildings on Friday, in Elazig, eastern Turkey, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. Rescue workers were continuing to search for people buried under the rubble of apartment blocks in Elazig and neighboring Malatya. Mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories were opened for hundreds who left their homes after the quake. (Ismail Coskun/IHA via AP)
ANKARA, TURKEY -- Working against the clock in freezing temperatures, Turkish rescue teams pulled more survivors from collapsed buildings Sunday, days after a powerful magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit the country's east.
Authorities said the death toll rose to at least 36 people.
Turkish television showed Ayse Yildiz, 35, and her 2-year-old daughter Yusra being dragged out of the rubble of a collapsed apartment building in the city of Elazig. They had been trapped for 28 hours after the earthquake struck on Friday night.
The magnitude 6.8 quake also injured over 1,600 people but 45 survivors have been pulled alive from the rubble so far, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference Sunday in Istanbul.
More than 700 aftershocks rocked the region as over 3,500 rescue experts scrambled through wrecked buildings to reach survivors, working around the clock. Rescue teams concentrated efforts in the city's Mustafa Pasa neighbourhood and the nearby town of Sivrice.
One rescued couple was reunited with a Syrian student who had helped to dig them out of their home with his hands.
"He is our hero and angel," Dudane Aydin said of Mahmud al Osman.
As overnight temperatures dropped to -5 degrees Celsius, emergency teams set up more than 9,500 tents for displaced residents and distributed 17,000 hot meals.
The Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency said 20 of the aftershocks measured magnitude 4.0 or above, including a magnitude 4.3 quake that hit the neighbouring province of Malatya on Sunday morning,
The agency said 76 buildings were destroyed and more than 1,000 were damaged by the quake. Unmanned aerial drones were being used to survey damaged neighbourhoods and co-ordinate rescue efforts.
Erdogan said every effort was being made to find survivors and promised to house displaced residents as soon as possible.
"Turkey has begun to heal the wounds of this great disaster in unity, togetherness and coming together," he said.
At least 104 people were receiving hospital treatment after the quake, 13 of them in intensive care but not in critical condition, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Sunday.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu promised financial help for the victims of the quake.
He later attended the funeral of five members of the same family -- a married couple, their daughter and two grandchildren -- with other ministers and officials. The 12-year-old boy was buried in the same coffin as his baby sister.
On Saturday, the president visited the disaster zone to inspect the rescue operation, meet with injured people in the hospital and attend the funeral of a mother and son.
Erdogan also condemned what he called a "smear campaign" on social media by those questioning the Turkish government's preparations for earthquakes. A prosecutor in Ankara has opened an investigation into social media posts about Friday's quake.
Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, which sits atop two major fault lines.
Across Turkey, there was an outpouring of support for the quake victims. Some soccer clubs announced they would donate the receipts of their weekend matches while fans of the Fenerbahce soccer club threw scarves and hats on to the field during a game in Istanbul, chanting "Cold Elazig, Fenerbahce is with you!"
Quake victims were taking refugee in tents, mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories. Authorities warned people not to return to homes that could be unsafe.
A prison in Adiyaman, 110 kilometres southwest of the epicenter, was evacuated due to quake damages, with more than 800 prisoners transferred to nearby jails.
Friday's main quake hit at 8:55 p.m in the city that lies 565 kilometres east of Ankara. It's not the first time that Elazig has seen a fatal quake -- a magnitude 6.0 earthquake killed 51 people there in 2010.
Turkey's worst quake in decades came in 1999, when a pair of strong earthquakes struck northwest Turkey, killing around 18,000 people.