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Death toll rises to 22 after earthquake hits eastern Turkey

At least 22 dead, over 1000 injured after earthquake strikes Turkey
WATCH: At least 22 dead, over 1000 injured after earthquake strikes Turkey

The death toll from a strong earthquake that rocked eastern Turkey climbed to 22 Saturday, with more than 1,000 people injured, officials said.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, speaking at a televised news conference near the epicentre of the quake, said 39 people had been rescued from the rubble of collapsed buildings, including a woman recovered 14 hours after the main tremor.

Survivors rescued after deadly earthquake hits Turkey
Survivors rescued after deadly earthquake hits Turkey

Rescue workers were continuing to search for people buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings in Elazig province and neighbouring Malatya, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said earlier.

Emergency workers and security forces distributed tents, beds and blankets as overnight temperatures dropped below freezing in the affected areas. Mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories were opened for hundreds who left their homes after the quake.

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Fire breaks out on building rooftop after earthquake rocks eastern Turkey
Fire breaks out on building rooftop after earthquake rocks eastern Turkey

READ MORE: At least 18 dead after 6.8 magnitude earthquake shakes eastern Turkey

“The earthquake was very severe, we desperately ran out (of our home),” Emre Gocer told the state-run Anadolu news agency as he sheltered with his family at a sports hall in the town of Sivrice in Elazig. “We don’t have a safe place to stay right now.”

The quake hit Friday at 8:55 p.m. local time (1755 GMT) at a depth of 6.7 kilometres near Sivrice, the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD, said. Various earthquake monitoring centers gave magnitudes ranging from 6.5 to 6.8.

AFAD said it was followed by 228 aftershocks, the strongest with magnitudes 5.4 and 5.1.

At least five buildings in Sivrice and 25 in Malatya province were destroyed, said Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum. Hundreds of other structures were damaged and made unsafe.

People in Turkish city take to streets after earthquake hits
People in Turkish city take to streets after earthquake hits

Soylu said 18 people were killed in Elazig and four in Malatya. Some 1,030 people were hurt. Speaking at the same news conference, Koca said 34 people remain in intensive care.

Television footage showed emergency workers removing two people from the wreckage of a collapsed building in the town of Gezin. Another person was saved in the city of Elazig, the provincial capital, and two more from a house in Doganyol, Malatya.

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A prison in Adiyaman, 110 kilometres (70 miles) southwest of the epicentre, was evacuated after being damaged in the quake.

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AFAD said 28 rescue teams had been working around the clock. More than 2,600 personnel from 39 of Turkey’s 81 provinces were sent to the disaster site.

“Our biggest hope is that the death toll does not rise,” Parliament Speaker Mustafa Sentop said.

Communication companies announced free telephone and internet services for residents in the quake-hit region, while Turkish Airlines announced extra flights.

Soylu said emergency work was proceeding under the threat of aftershocks.

Rescuers race against time to find survivors in Turkey’s earthquake
Rescuers race against time to find survivors in Turkey’s earthquake

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter overnight that all measures were being taken to “ensure that the earthquake that occurred in Elazig and was felt in many provinces is overcome with the least amount of loss.”

Neighbouring Greece, which is at odds with Turkey over maritime boundaries and gas exploitation rights, offered to send rescue crews should they be needed.

Elazig is some 565 kilometres east of the Turkish capital, Ankara.

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Turkey sits on top of two major fault lines and earthquakes are frequent. Two strong earthquakes struck northwest Turkey in 1999, killing around 18,000 people.

A magnitude 6 earthquake killed 51 people in Elazig in 2010.