23 Oct., 2011, The Daily Telegraph
As many as 1,000 people are feared dead after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck southeastern Turkey, resulting in the collapse of around 50 buildings in the province of Van.
At least 85 people have been confirmed dead after the quake struck at 1.41pm local time (11.41 BST), with the highest number of casualties coming from the city of Ercis, a city of 90,000 some 13 miles from the epicentre Tabanli and more than 36 miles north of the provincial capital city of Van.
The state hospital reported 59 people had died and more than 400 injured were being treated four hours after the quake struck. The area was also hit by a series of aftershocks.
Many patients are being treated in the garden of the hospital because it lacks sufficient capacity for all the wounded.
Based on the magnitude of the quake and the state of infrastructure in the region however, Turkey’s seismology institute estimated the casualty count between 500 and 1,000.
“We estimate around 1,000 buildings are damaged and our estimate is for hundreds of lives lost. It could be 500 or 1,000,” said Mustafa Erdik, the general manager of the Kandilli Observatory.
In Van city, which has a population of around 500,000, citizens fled to the streets in panic after the first shock, trying to pull trapped people from under collapsed buildings and debris.
Nefise Taylan, a management student, was in a student dormitory at Van’s Yuzuncu Yil University when the quake hit.
“Everybody ran outside when the ceiling began to fall,” she told The Daily Telegraph over the phone. The dormitory she was in collapsed during the quake.
“The situation is very bad. We have no electricity.”
Teams from the state Search and Rescue Association’s branches in surrounding provinces began to reach the area around 5pm. Search and rescue personnel have also been sent to Van from cities as far away as Istanbul and Kocaeli in the country’s northwest. Last night they were scrambling to remove people from the body before nightfall, when temperatures drop close to freezing.
In anticipation of the pending numbers of homeless, more than 1,000 tents, and 500 food packages have been sent to Van by Turkish Red Crescent, the country’s largest humanitarian organisation.
Offers of aid from countries including the United States, Britain, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Switzerland and Greece began pouring in hours after the earthquake. Israel, whose relationship with Turkey has deteriorated in the last year, also said they were prepared to offer the Turkish government “any aid they might need”.
Ercis’s mayor, Zulfikar Arapoglu, also issued an urgent call for aid on NTV Television.
“There are so many dead. Several buildings have collapsed, there is too much destruction,” he said. “We need urgent aid. We need medics.”
In the district of Celebibag, near Ercis, Mayor Veysel Keser said that countless people were still trapped under rubble.
“We can hear the screams of people who are under the rubble, in agony,” he said. “Student dormitories, hotels and gas stations have collapsed.”
The airport at Van was also damaged, diverting planes to nearby cities and forcing relief teams to travel by road.
Ercis also experienced the worst infrastructure damage, with 25 to 30 buildings collapsing in the city alone, according to Besir Atalay, the deputy prime minister.
Sunday’s earthquake had a relatively shallow depth of 12.2 miles, according to the US Geological Survey, which is likely to increase the damage wrought.
Van province lies several hundred miles east of the East Anatolian fault, one of Turkey’s most seismically active regions.
Although the earthquake reportedly affected the surrounding provinces of Diyarbakir and Erzurum, residents in the capital cities of those provinces told The Daily Telegraph they felt nothing when it occurred.
The earthquake was the largest to strike Turkey since 1999 when two earthquakes with a magnitude of more than 7 hit northwest Turkey, killing 18,000.
Image: Ali Ihsan Ozturk / Anadolu Agency via Reuters