The death toll from eastern Turkey’s 7.2-magnitude earthquake reached 270 Monday even as hundreds of rescuers were removing debris, some with bare hands, and pulling out people alive from collapsed buildings in freezing conditions.
According to Turkey’s interior minister, Idris Naim Sahin, 270 died and more than 1,300 people have been injured in the earthquake that hit the country’s eastern parts at 1:41 p.m. local time Sunday.
According to authorities, the toll could further increase as hundreds more were still unaccounted for. But it may not rise as high as initially feared, The Associated Press reported.
In the town of Ercis, which bore the brunt of the quake, numerous buildings were damaged, according to the prime minister’s office. The city of Van, close to the Iranian border and about 55 miles south of Ercis, and other nearby cities and districts also suffered major damage.
Thousands of people slept on streets or in tents in extreme cold conditions even as about 2,400 rescuers were at work. Temperatures dropped to near-freezing early Monday morning as rescuers used special equipment, and some bare hands, to remove debris to look for victims and survivors.
At one collapsed four-story building in Ercis, firemen from the city of Diyarbakir tried to reach four missing children, Reuters reported. “Aid workers carried two black body bags, one apparently containing a child, to an ambulance. An old woman wrapped in a headscarf walked alongside sobbing.”
The Turkish Red Crescent has provided authorities with tents and food packets for distribution.
The earthquake’s epicenter was in a village near the city of Van with a depth of just about 12.4 miles.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who visited Van to assess the damage, said rescue teams had not been able to reach many villages which could have been badly affected. “Because the buildings are made of mud brick, they are more vulnerable to quakes,” he said. “I must say that almost all buildings in such villages are destroyed.”
Turkey sits on major geological fault lines. In 1999, an earthquake killed about 18,000 people. Yet, building regulations are often neglected in the country.
President Barack Obama said Sunday America would help rebuild affected cities. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the brave men and women who are working to bring assistance to this stricken region,” he said in a statement. “We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Turkish ally in this difficult time, and are ready to assist the Turkish authorities.”
World Vision has called for prayers on its Facebook page. The Christian relief organization said it is “continuing to monitor the situation” there.