24 Oct 2011

'Serious human loss' as toll rises in Turkey quake

6:38 pm on 24 October 2011

Many hundreds of people are feared killed in a powerful earthquake in southeast Turkey.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake has destroyed dozens of buildings and trapped victims alive under the debris.

The confirmed death toll is now 217, with 1090 injured.

Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin is overseeing emergency operations in Ercis, one of the worst-hit towns.

He says 117 people are confirmed dead in Ercis and 100 in Van, the provincial capital.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who rushed to the Kurdish-populated province, warned the toll could rise as more victims were found in the wreckage of shattered buildings.

Officials say hundreds of people remain unaccounted for and rescue teams are working through the night looking for survivors beneath the rubble.

Emergency workers are battling in the dark to dig people out of the rubble in Van and surrounding districts.

The epicentre of the earthquake was the village of Tabanli 16 kilometres northeast of Van, near the border with Iran.

The initial quake at 1.41am local time has been followed by more than 70 aftershocks.

A brief statement from the national disaster body says there is serious human and material loss.

Civilians have joined in the desperate search for survivors using their bare hands and working under generator-powered floodlights.

Among the buildings that have been destroyed are an apartment block and a student dormitory.

One rescuer says cries and groaning have been heard from underneath the debris.

Television footage has shown panicked residents using shovels and other tools to try to rescue people trapped under an eight-storey building in the city centre.

Electricity and gas supplies have been cut and many people are using lanterns.

Overnight temperatures are expected to drop to near freezing, the ABC reports.

International Red Crescent spokesperson Joe Lowry says a big disaster appears to be unfolding.

He says the Turkish Red Crescent is mounting a massive relief operation and already has 5000 tents, 5000 blankets, food, stoves and water on the way to the area.

The quake is among the strongest in Turkish history and the worst since 1999.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has extended his condolences to Turkey and has also offered authorities help with the recovery effort.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has no New Zealanders registered as being in the province where the quake struck.