Istanbul and at least seven other cities were struck at 3am local time (midnight GMT). Most of the dead were crushed in their sleep as the force of the earthquake destroyed apartment blocks across Turkey's industrial heartland. Through the terrible dawn, and all day long, rescuers dug in the rubble of shattered buildings with everything from bare hands to picks and shovels.
In the town of Golcuk 55 miles south-east of Istanbul, the mayor said 500 buildings housing 20,000 families had collapsed. "There could be as many as 10,000 people under the debris," Ismail Baris said.
The Golcuk dead included 160 sailors who perished in the collapse of two navy buildings,while hundreds died in Izmit.
Turkish television said 500 people were killed in the city of Adapazari 90 miles east of Istanbul while in Yalova, south of Golcuk, the governor Nihat Ozgol said 250 bodies had been recovered. Another 116 people were killed in Istanbul itself, and hundreds more were injured there by falling masonry or by jumping from balconies.
There were no immediate reports of damage to Istanbul's architectural treasures such as the Blue Mosque, though the quake toppled the minarets of dozens of mosques in the region. The Strait of Bosporous remained open to two-way traffic and air officials said both Ankara and Istanbul airports were operating normally.
The effects of the quake were curiously random. It turned sturdy-looking apartment blocks into concertinas of twisted concrete and metal, while identical structures next door stood seemingly unharmed. Collapsed buildings blocked roads, slowing rescue efforts which were further hampered by traffic jams caused by residents fleeing cities while others tried to get into them for news of loved ones.
Electricity pylons were ripped out and power cables torn apart, leaving the region without electricity. "This is as much as we have room for and they keep coming in," said Saban, an Izmit caretaker who surveyed the 20 fresh graves workmen had dug under a burning sun.
A trail of minibuses and cars carrying the dead wound its way up a nearby hilltop. There, workmen operating bulldozers dug up rows of trenches to take the overflow. "The bulldozers will keep digging until we have room for everyone." said Veysel Cakir, overseeing the grim operation.
Islamic tradition says the dead should be buried within 24 hours. Outside a hospital, some 150 doctors and nurses struggled to save the wounded strewn among the dead.
Authorities criticised builders for failing to protect homes against tremors last year after more than 140 people died in southern Turkey in an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale. Yesterday's measured 6.7.
The Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit called the quake the worst natural disaster he had ever seen and said it would require gargantuan efforts to rebuild. "The loss is huge." the 73-year-old premier said in a trembling voice. "It is the biggest natural disaster I have witnessed ... May Allah help our state and our people."
Firefighters battled a huge blaze after the quake started a large fire at an oil refinery on the Gulf of Izmit. One official said three naphtha tanks at the refinery were ablaze and a crude oil tower had collapsed, but it was unclear whether they were full.
Izmit, with a population of around one million, and at the epicentre of the earthquake, is home to many ventures involving foreign companies including Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Pirelli and Goodyear.
The world's major disaster agency, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, appealed for $7m to help the estimated 100,000 victims of the earthquake. The federation spokesman Helge Kvam said tents, blankets, food and water purification tablets would be the top priority. The United Nations said Turkish officials had informed it that Turkey welcomed international assistance and that the UN was sending an assessment team to help coordinate rescue efforts.
The Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said he was "shocked and saddened" by news of the quake and Tony Blair sent a message of sympathy to his Turkish counterpart. The Foreign Office said that no Britons had been killed or injured when the quake and waves of aftershocks struck.
The Foreign Office yesterday warned against travel to areas of the country affected by the earthquake. It said in a statement that further tremors could occur over the next few days."Damaged buildings remain dangerous and advice from the local authorities should be followed. Until the situation becomes clearer we advise against travel to ...Yalova, Izmit and Adapazari."
Britain said it was sending 39 rescue specialists to Turkey to help find survivors. The 39 specialists, including fire service personnel and experts from non-governmental organisations, would be rushed to Turkey while officials assessed what further aid to offer.
The United States offered military help and sent a search-and-rescue team ."On behalf of all Americans, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families." said President Bill Clinton. "Turkey has been our friend and our ally for a long time now. We must stand with them and do whatever we can to help them get through this terrible crisis."
Greece, Turkey's former enemy, offered aid and condolences, and planned to send a military plane with medical supplies. Germany, home to a large expatriate Turkish population, has sent salvage teams and Israel said it was sending a 120-strong mercy mission.Reuse content