Video: Rescuers search for survivors after earthquake in Turkey

  1. Transcript of: Rescuers search for survivors after earthquake in Turkey

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: In eastern Turkey tonight some people are digging with their hands in a desperate search for the living after a deadly earthquake jolted the region this afternoon. The quake with a magnitude of 7.2 was centered close to the Iranian border near the city of Van , but caused damage across a wide area. Scores of buildings have collapsed, trapping an unknown number of people. Said the mayor of one hard hit town, 'People are in agony. We can hear their screams.' At least 138 people are dead but that number is expected to quickly and dramatically climb. NBC 's Annabel Roberts is following developments for us from London tonight with this report.

    ANNABEL ROBERTS reporting: It may be night, but the rescue work continues. Local people join the overwhelmed emergency crews to dig through the rubble in the hope of finding survivors. And they do, a young woman grimacing with pain. She's raised on a stretcher and carried to an ambulance. One life saved is a triumph, but many more lie buried and the challenge is to reach them fast. The nights are cold, the temperature falls below freezing, extremely harsh conditions for anyone trapped overnight. They dig with bare hands. Impossible to give up hope, almost impossible to get through the debris. The quake struck at lunch time , people ran on to the streets in panic. A series of aftershocks followed. At least 21, the strongest with a magnitude of 6.

    Dr. LUCY JONES (USGS Chief Scientist): Turkey , like California and Japan , is sitting at a what's called a plate boundary. This is an area with multiple faults in a very complex pattern. We can already see that some of the aftershocks are probably on different faults than on the main shock.

    ROBERTS: In spite of these known risks, construction work can be shoddy. Officials fear as many as a thousand could be dead. The Red Cross say many are trapped.

    Mr. JOE LOWRY (International Federation of Red Cross): We've seen a lot of buildings have just collapsed like pancakes, which would have been extremely dangerous to people who'd been inside them at the time.

    ROBERTS: 'They rescued two people,' this man says. 'They were injured but four more people are trapped under the rubble.' Not knowing about loved ones is devastating. 'We went to all the hospitals, but haven't been able to find our friend,' he says. 'I pray to God our friend has survived.' There are calls for tents and blankets. More rescue teams are on their way, but roads are blocked. It will take time, and time truly matters for those trapped tonight. Annabel Roberts, NBC News, London.

Image: Rescue operations in Turkey
Mustafa Ozer  /  AFP - Getty Images
Turkish men and rescue workers try to recover people from a collapsed building after an earthquake in the Ercis province of Van, in eastern Turkey, on Oct. 23.
msnbc.com news services
updated 10/23/2011 11:51:22 PM ET 2011-10-24T03:51:22

More than 200 people were confirmed killed and hundreds more feared dead after an earthquake hit parts of southeast Turkey Sunday with rescue teams working through the night to free trapped survivors.

Early Monday Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said the 7.2 magnitude quake killed 100 in the city of Van and 117 in the badly hit town of Ercis, 60 miles further north. The death toll was expected to rise.

Overseeing emergency operations in Ercis, Sahin said a total of 1,090 people were known to have been injured. Hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Rescue efforts struggled to get into full swing following the quake, with electricity cut off as darkness fell on the towns and villages on the barren Anatolian steppe near the border with Iran.

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Survivors and emergency service workers searched frantically through broken concrete, using hands, shovels and torches or working under floodlights powered by mobile generators.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said there were an unknown number of people unaccounted for under the collapsed buildings of the stricken towns, and he feared the worst for villagers living in outlying rural areas, who had still to be reached.

"Because the buildings are made of adobe, they are more vulnerable to quakes. I must say that almost all buildings in such villages are destroyed," Erdogan told a televised news conference in Van shortly after midnight Sunday.

Scores of strong aftershocks have jolted the region in the hours since the quake struck at 6:41 a.m. EDT Sunday.

'Be patient'
In Van, a bustling and ancient city on a lake ringed by snow-capped mountains and with a population of 1 million, cranes shifted rubble off a crumpled six-storey apartment block where bystanders said 70 people were trapped.

Erdogan visited Ercis earlier by helicopter to assess first hand the scale of the disaster. With 55 buildings flattened, including a student dormitory, the level of destruction in Ercis, a town of 100,000, was greater than in Van, where fewer came down.

"We don't know how many people are in the ruins of collapsed buildings, it would be wrong to give a number," he said.

Reuters television images from Ercis showed rescuers trying to clam one young boy, aged about 10, pinned beneath a concrete slab.

"Be patient, be patient," they pleaded as the boy whimpered. The lifeless hand of an adult, with a wedding ring, was visible just a few inches in front of his face.

The military issued a statement saying two battalions had been sent to assist the relief operations.

Soldiers were deployed in the town to help rescuers and digging machines had also arrived to help. There was a constant wail of ambulance sirens ferrying the injured to hospitals.

Dogan news agency reported that 24 people were pulled from the rubble alive in the two hours after midnight.

Reuters photographer Osman Orsal earlier described seeing dead body after body being pulled from the debris.

"Ambulances, soldiers, emergency teams everywhere now, working on getting people out of collapsed buildings. I have seen many dead bodies being taken out, the teams are trying to find people alive," Orsal said.

One nurse told CNN Turk news channel the town's hospital was so badly damaged that staff were treating injured in the garden, and bodies were being left outside the building.

After visiting the quake zone, Erdogan returned to Ankara, where he is expected to chair a cabinet meeting to discuss the response to the disaster.

He said Turkey was able to meet the challenge itself, but thanked countries that had offered help, including Armenia and Israel, two governments that have strained relations with Ankara.

In Van province officials scrambled to provide shelter for people rendered homeless or too afraid to go home while the aftershocks continued with alarming regularity.

"We are working on supplying people with places to spend the night, find shelter. One hundred tents are being erected in the city stadium now, and 700 more will be put up in the municipality stadium," Sahin told Reuters in Ercis.

Turkey lies in one of the world's most active seismic zones and is crossed by numerous fault lines. In 1999, two earthquakes with a magnitude of more than 7 struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people.

More recently, a 6.0-magnitude quake in March 2010 killed 51 people in eastern Turkey, while in 2003, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake killed 177 people in the southeastern city of Bingol.

Istanbul, the country's largest city with more than 12 million people, lies in northwestern Turkey near a major fault line. Experts have warned that overcrowding and shoddy construction in Istanbul could kill tens of thousands if a major earthquake struck.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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