Powerful quake rocks eastern Turkey, killing 21; tremors felt in Israel

Turkish authorities say 6.8 magnitude tremblor in eastern province of Elazig causes buildings to collapse; no reports of injuries or damage in Israel

Turkish officials and police arrive at the scene of a collapsed building following a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Elazig, eastern Turkey, January 24, 2020. (DHA/Demiroren News Agency (DHA)/AFP)
Turkish officials and police arrive at the scene of a collapsed building following a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Elazig, eastern Turkey, January 24, 2020. (DHA/Demiroren News Agency (DHA)/AFP)

A 6.8-magnitude earthquake rocked a sparsely-populated part of eastern Turkey on Friday, killing at least 21 people, injuring more than 500 and leaving some 30 trapped in the wreckage of toppled buildings, Turkish officials said.

The quake was felt as far away as Israel, where residents in Petah Tikva, Holon, Yavne and Beersheba reported feeling the temblor. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage in Israel.

In Turkey, rescue teams from neighboring provinces were dispatched to the affected areas, working in the dark with floodlights in the freezing cold, and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said troops were on standby to help.

Hundreds of residents were left homeless or with damaged homes.

TV footage showed rescuers pull out one injured person from the rubble of a collapsed building in the district of Gezin, in the eastern Elazig province. Around 30 were believed to be trapped inside collapsed structures in Elazig province, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, who traveled to the afflicted area together with Soylu, said 13 people were killed in Elazig, including two people who suffered heart attacks, and five others died in Malatya. A total of 553 people were hurt, including 11 who were in serious condition.

Some 30 buildings had collapsed from the quake in the two provinces, according to Murat Kurum, the environment minister.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter 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.”

The quake shook the Sivrice district in the eastern province of Elazig at around 8:55 p.m. local time, the Turkish government’s disaster and emergency management agency said.

The US Geological Survey assessed the quake’s magnitude at 6.7, and said it struck at a depth of 10 kilometers (about six miles).

“It was very scary, furniture fell on top of us. We rushed outside,” 47-year-old Melahat Can, who lives in the city of Elazig, told AFP.

“We will spend the coming days in a farmhouse outside the city,” she said.

Everybody is in the street

“Sivrice was shaken very seriously, we have directed our rescue teams to the region,” Soylu reporters, adding that there were reports of some collapsed buildings in the region.

The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey including Tunceli, the Turkish broadcaster NTV reported, adding that neighboring cities had mobilized rescue teams for the quake area.

“We have sent four teams to the quake region,” Recep Salci of Turkey’s Search and Rescue Association (AKUT) told AFP. “We have news of collapsed buildings, and preparing more teams in case of need.”

Zekeriya Gunes, 68, a resident of Elazig city, said a building 200 meters down on his street had collapsed but he did not know whether it was inhabited.

“Everybody is in the street, it was very powerful, very scary,” he said.

Turkey lies on major faultlines and is prone to earthquakes.

In 1999, a devastating 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit in western Turkey, leaving more than 17,000 people dead including about 1,000 in the the country’s largest city Istanbul.

Teams from the Israeli army provided rescue and medical services after that quake.

A Turkish mother waits with her child at the Israeli field hospital in the town of Adapazari Sunday, August 22, 1999. (AP Photo/Eyal Warshavsky)

The last earthquake to be reported in Israel was in June, when a minor temblor measuring around 3.8 on the Richter scale was recorded in the Dead Sea region.

Israel is situated along the Syrian-African rift, a tear in the earth’s crust running the length of the border separating Israel and Jordan, and which is part of the Great Rift Valley, which extends from northern Syria to Mozambique.

The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured 700 more.

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