Rescuers scrambled through the rubble in a desperate search on Monday for survivors of an earthquake that killed at least 272 people in Turkey as residents fled the scenes of devastation.
People living in eastern Van province issued cries for help on Twitter, giving out the addresses of collapsed buildings and the number of people trapped under the debris, as hundreds of rescuers worked round the clock.
Two children were plucked alive from the wreckage of a collapsed building in the town of Ercis but it was a rare slice of good news in an otherwise grim task for the rescue teams.
Many students were believed to be buried in Ercis, the town which felt the full brunt of the quake, after a dormitory collapsed and several student houses crumbled.
An earlier report said a total of 264 people were confirmed to have been killed by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake which struck around lunchtime on Sunday, according to Idris Naim Sener, the country’s interior minister.
In Ercis 169 people were killed, while 95 died in Van city centre, the Anatolia news agency quoted Sener as saying.
The government said that a total of 970 buildings had collapsed as a result of the quake and aftershocks.
The deputy prime minister, Besir Atalay, said that rescuers had now managed to get access to all the quake-hit zones in Van province, including remote villages.
One resident of Ercis recounted the moment when disaster struck and
how many had been
forced to sleep outside overnight in freezing temperatures.
‘We couldn’t understand what was going on — all of a sudden there was dust everywhere, our eyes were full of dust, and we were thrown against the walls and furniture. It lasted 20 seconds,’ said 23-year-old Yunus Ozmen.
‘We spent the night outside in the street and made a fire to keep warm.’
His neighbour Abdul Hadi Isik said that his aunt and her children were buried under the rubble.
‘There is no hope left,’ he added.
AFP journalists in Ercis reported that the rescue effort was being hampered by a lack of electricity and water.
Atalay said 29 villages and 40 per cent of Ercis town were without power but denied there was a problem with water.
Many of the town’s residents were fleeing the town while police and soldiers kept watching around crumbled buildings to prevent looting.
Using electrical pliers, rescuers could be seen patiently cutting through iron rods holding concrete blocks together while other people started to sweep up the mess.
The town’s football pitch had been transformed into a sea of tents set up by the Red Crescent.
While scores of multi-storey buildings had collapsed, most single-storey houses remained intact.
Only nine percent of buildings in Van province had compulsory earthquake insurance, according to Selamet Yazici, the general manager of the natural disaster insurance institution.
In the province’s main city of Van, authorities shut down Yuzunci Yil University and sent more than 4,000 students back to their home towns, Anatolia reported.
Some 200 inmates fled the province’s main prison when the building was damaged in the quake, media reports said, adding that 50 of them returned to prison later after seeing their families.
In 1999, two strong quakes in northwest Turkey’s heavily populated and industrialised regions left some 20,000 dead. A powerful earthquake in the town of Caldiran in Van province killed 3,840 people in 1976.