- Associated Press - Sunday, October 23, 2011

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake 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.

Tens of thousands of residents fled into the streets running, screaming and trying to reach relatives by cellphone. As the full extent of the damage became clear, desperate survivors dug into the rubble with their bare hands, trying to rescue the trapped and the injured.

“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.

The quake hit Turkey‘s mountainous eastern region at 1:41 p.m. local time (6:41 a.m. EDT) with an epicenter in the village of Tabanli, 10 miles from Van, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.


State-run TRT television reported that 59 people were killed and 150 injured in the eastern town of Ercis, 25 others died in Van, and a child died in the nearby province of Bitlis.

Turkish scientists estimated that up to 1,000 people already could be dead because of low local housing standards and the size of the quake.

The hardest hit was Ercis, a city of 75,000 close to the Iranian border, which lies on the Ercis Fault in one of Turkey‘s most earthquake-prone zones. Van, some 55 miles to the south, also suffered substantial damage.

As many as 80 buildings collapsed in Ercis, including a dormitory, and 10 buildings collapsed in Van, the Turkish Red Crescent said. Some highways also caved in, CNN-Turk television reported.

NTV television said hundreds of injured people were treated at the state hospital in Ercis. Survivors in Ercis complained of lack of heavy machinery to remove chunks of cement floors that pancaked onto one another, NTV television reported.

“There are so many dead. Several buildings have collapsed. There is too much destruction,” Ercis Mayor Zulfikar Arapoglu told NTV television. “We need urgent aid. We need medics.”

In Van, terrified residents spilled into the streets screaming. Rescue workers and residents scrambled, using only their hands and basic shovels, to save those who were trapped.

Residents sobbed outside the ruins of one flattened eight-story building, hoping that missing relatives would be rescued.

Witnesses said eight people were pulled from the rubble, but frequent aftershocks were hampering search efforts, CNN-Turk reported.

U.S. scientists recorded eight aftershocks within three hours of the quake, including two with a magnitude of 5.6.

Serious damage and casualties also were reported in the district of Celebibag, near Ercis.

Story Continues →