Powerful earthquake hits Turkey, killing 20 and sending panicked residents onto the streets

Agence France-Presse
Residents leave their houses after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake jolted eastern Turkish province of Elazig - Anadolu

A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 hit eastern Turkey on Friday, killing 20 people, causing buildings to collapse and sending panicked residents rushing into the street.

Rescue teams were being sent to the scene of the quake, which had its epicentre in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in the eastern province of Elazig.

"It was very scary, furniture fell on top of us. We rushed outside," 47-year-old Melahat Can, who lives in the provincial capital of Elazig, told AFP.

"We will spend the coming days in a farmhouse outside the city," she said.

The Turkish government's disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said the quake hit Sivrice at around 8.55 pm (1755 GMT).

The US Geological Survey assessed its magnitude at 6.7, and said it had a depth of 10 kilometres (about six miles).

Damaged buildings in Sursuru neighborhood are seen after the quake Credit: Anadolu Agency

AFAD said at least six people died - three in Elazig province and three in the neighbouring province of Malatya, which lies to the southwest.

"We are hoping we will not have more casualties," Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency.

Turkish television showed images of people stuck in apartments rushing outside in panic, as well as a fire on the roof of one building.

Turkey lies on major faultlines and is prone to frequent earthquakes.

AFAD said 30 aftershocks were recorded after Friday's quake, adding that more than 400 rescue teams were directed toward the region.

Turkey's leading communications companies announced they would provide residents in the quake region with internet and that phone calls would be free of charge.

"Sivrice was shaken very seriously, we have directed our rescue teams to the region," Interior Minister Mr Soylu, who is due to go to the affected area, told reporters.

Sivrice - a town with a population of about 4,000 people - is situated south of Elazig city on the shores of Hazar lake - one of the most popular tourist spots in the region and the source of the Tigris river.

The lake is home to a "Sunken City", with archeologists finding archeological traces dating back 4,000 years in its waters.

The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders, the Turkish broadcaster NTV reported, adding that neighbouring cities had mobilised rescue teams for the quake area.

"We have sent four teams to the quake region," Recep Salci of Turkey's Search and Rescue Association (AKUT) told AFP.

"We have news of collapsed buildings, and are preparing more teams in case of need."

Buildings collapsed in Sursu neighborhood, Elazig, Turkey Credit: Anadolu Agency

Zekeriya Gunes, 68, a resident of Elazig city, said a building 200 metres down on his street had collapsed but he did not know whether it was inhabited.

"Everybody is in the street, it was very powerful, very scary," he said.

Ferda, 39, said she felt worried and desperate.

"It lasted quite long, maybe 30 seconds," she told AFP. "I panicked and was undecided whether to go out in this cold or remain inside."

The USGS said the quake struck near the East Anatolian Fault in an area that has no documented large rupture since an earthquake in 1875.

In 1999, a devastating 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit in western Turkey, leaving more than 17,000 people dead including about 1,000 in the country's largest city Istanbul.

In September last yer, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Istanbul, causing residents to flee buildings in the economic capital.

Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate the city of 15 million people, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.