Using shovels, heavy machinery and their bare hands, rescue workers scrambled through piles of rubble to find survivors Monday after a deadly 7.2-magnitude earthquake devastated parts of eastern Turkey.
The death toll has risen to 279, with another 1,300 injured, Turkey’s semi-official Anatolian news agency reported, citing the country’s disaster management authority. Some 970 buildings are demolished.
There have been conflicting reports about the number of dead, however. Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said Monday that as many as 264 people were dead, while Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay put the death toll at 239.
It was difficult to tally the number of injured, Health Minister Recep Akdag said, because many were being treated and released.
The military was assisting with search-and-rescue efforts, Atalay said.
Numerous aftershocks — the largest a magnitude 6.0 — rattled eastern Turkey, one of the nation’s poorest areas.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 55 buildings collapsed in Ercis on the north shore of Lake Van. The Turkish Red Crescent said about 25 apartment buildings and a student dormitory collapsed in the town.
A health services building also collapsed, along with part of a hospital, CNN sister network CNN Turk reported. The injured were being treated in the hospital’s garden.
“People are really scared,” CNN Turk reporter Nevsin Mengu said from Van. “The survivors are now trying to survive the cold weather.”
Rescuers and survivors contended with near-freezing temperatures early Monday. Some people collected wood from collapsed buildings to burn for warmth, Mengu said.
She said many residents are not returning to their houses, opting instead to sleep on rooftops or in the streets. It was not clear whether their homes were uninhabitable or they were just too frightened. Electricity and natural gas were off in most of the city, but Atalay said officials hope to restore power in Van and Ercis by Monday night.
Trucks carrying medical aid and food were seen driving into Van. But rescue teams had not reached some of the smaller villages in the area, Mengu said.
One man, stuck in the fetal position under a large piece of debris, was visible only through a small hole in the rubble. The man appeared weak and exhausted after rescuers pulled him out, his clothes torn.
At one point, rescue workers halted operations to try to hear whether anyone was knocking for help.
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