A 6.8-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 24 struck eastern Turkey, killing at least 29 people and collapsing buildings near the epicenter of the tremor, which was felt in several neighboring countries.
The quake struck the province of Elazığ’s Sivrice district at 8.55 p.m. local time and had a depth of 6.75 kilometers, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). It was followed by over 400 aftershocks.
Twenty five people were killed in Elazığ and four more in the neighboring province of Malatya, AFAD said late on Jan. 25, adding 1,466 others were injured and in hospitals in the region. It said authorities were still carrying out rescue efforts at three sites in Elazığ.
Turkish broadcasters showed footage of rescuers pulling people out from under the debris, several hours after the quake. A woman and her five-year-old daughter were rescued 23 hours after the tremor. Rescue teams also pulled out a 2.5-year-old child from under the debris 24 hours after the powerful quake.
Speaking in Elazığ, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said an estimated 22 people were still trapped under debris. AFAD later said 43 people had been rescued so far.
Speaking alongside Soylu, Health Minster Fahrettin Koca said 128 wounded people were receiving treatment and that 34 of those were in intensive care, but not in critical conditions. He said additional medical centers would be set up if necessary.
Rescue teams worked through the night with their hands, drills and mechanical diggers to remove bricks and plaster from collapsed buildings in Elazığ, where the overnight temperature dipped to -8 degrees Celsius. Similar cold was expected on Jan. 26 night.
Soylu described the earthquake as a “Level 3” incident according to the country’s emergency response plan. This means it requires assistance at the national level but is one stage short of needing international help.
AFAD warned residents not to return to damaged buildings because of the danger of further aftershocks. It said beds, blankets and tents were being sent to the area where some people sheltered in sports gymnasiums. Turkey’s Kızılay aid group also sent food, heaters and other materials to the region.
Emergency teams and rescue equipment were sent from other provinces to Elazığ, with thousands of rescuers and medical personnel on the ground to look for and help survivors.
Several municipalities sent supplies and officials to help in the aid effort. Turkish Airlines put on additional flights to Elazığ from Ankara and Istanbul to help transport rescuers.
The Kandilli seismology center in Istanbul said the quake measured 6.5 and had a depth of 5 kilometers. The U.S. Geological Survey gave the preliminary magnitude as 6.7.
State media in Syria and Iran both reported the earthquake was felt in those countries. Local media in Lebanon said the cities of Beirut and Tripoli also felt the quake.
Erdoğan describes the earthquake as a ‘test’ for Turkey
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cancelled his plans in Istanbul on Jan. 25 and went to Elazığ to inspect the rescue efforts. He also attended a funeral for a woman and her son killed in the quake, which he described as a “test” for Turkey.
“We are doing everything we can as the state and nation, and we will continue to do so. Our efforts at all rescue sites will continue,” he said at the funeral, adding state house developer TOKİ would make sure no one was left “hungry or in the open.”
Turkey has a history of powerful earthquakes. More than 17,000 people were killed in August 1999 when a 7.6 magnitude quake struck the western city of İzmit, 90 km southeast of Istanbul. About 500,000 people were made homeless.
In 2011 an earthquake struck the eastern city of Van and town of Ercis, some 100 km to the north, killing at least 523 people.