120 dead in new Turkish earthquake

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The Independent Online
AN EARTHQUAKE ripped through north-west Turkey yesterday, killing at least 120 people, injuring more than 1,500 and flattening many buildings.

There were no clear reports from the worst-hit regions last night and the death-toll looked certain to rise. The quake, measured 7.2 on the Richter scale, hit the edge of the same region as the devastating tremor of 17 August, which measured 7.4.

The tremor was quickly followed by at least five aftershocks with magnitudes greater than 5. "We are face-to-face with a new disaster," President Suleyman Demirel said. "I hope our losses will not be great."

But even as he spoke, health ministry officials confirmed early figures of 120 for the dead. He appeared to be all too painfully aware that the August quake which claimed 17,000 started with scores of fatalities but mounted relentlessly as rescuers sifted the rubble.

In the first television pictures of the latest devastation, from the town of Bolu, a man wailed "sister, sister," before dissolving in tears over the remains of his flattened home. Flames were visible in the building, as people scrabbled in the wreckage with spades. Across the town, women rocked from side to side and screamed "Allah".

The earthquake was centred in a remote mountainous region. Emergency teams were going to the scene amid reports that the main road to Istanbul had been destroyed. Witnesses reported hearing cries for help echoing across the ruins in the town of Duzce, 115 miles east of Istanbul and the epicentre of the quake.

An official said there were reports of an undisclosed number of deaths in the town and that hundreds of buildings had collapsed. Casualties were being treated in the hospital gardens because of damage to the building. Hundreds of people tried to keep warm amid the winter chill by huddling beside fires made of wood and old tyres in on of the town's parks. The town was in darkness as authorities cut the electricity after the quake to prevent fires.

From Bolu, which is nearby, the police chief, Ugur Gur, told Turkish television that the earthquake had set off explosions in the town, starting a number of fires. More deaths were reported in Adapazari and Yalova, both of which were devastated in August.

In Adapazari, which was virtually levelled by the August quake, terrified residents leapt from their shaking buildings, said Cahit Kirac, the town governor. He said there were reports of injuries, but had no details. Parts of Adapazari, which is 40 miles from Duzce, had been plunged into darkness on Thursday when a 5.7-magnitude aftershock from the August quake killed two people were killed and injured 171.

Elsewhere, there were the reports that are becoming tragically common, of people hurling themselves from balconies in terror. The tremor yesterday began at 6.57pm local time. People in Turkey are becoming inured to the ground shaking beneath their feet in a series of moderate after-shocks from August's earthquake, and this was the second tremor in two days.

Yesterday, as the shaking gained strength, people rushed into the streets in panic in cities across the country, including Istanbul and Ankara, which are 275 miles apart.

The quake come as Turkey is preparing to host delegations from 54 countries for a summit this week of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. US President Bill Clinton, who will be joined by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and other world leaders, is expected to arrive in Turkey tomorrow. His schedule includes a planned visit to Izmit, one of the areas hardest hit in the August quake, to survey the damage.

Within hours of Turkey's latest quake, Greece pledged support and readied rescue teams to help the relief effort.Greek Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said 40 fire department disaster workers as well as doctors and quake damage experts would fly to Turkey today on three military emergency supply aircraft.

"We are ready to help the Turkish government and the Turkish people in any way we can," Foreign Minister George Papandreou said. A Greek rescue team had been among the first to arrive after the 17 August earthquake.

Other offers of help have already been received. Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said rescue teams from Greece, Algeria, Israel, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Czech Republic, France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Denmark were expected to arrive soon.

International help was unexpectedly on the scene by accident. A team of Hungarian rescue workers, who by coincidence were in Ankara for a conference, reached the scene soon after the early evening quake. Aftershocks continued late into the night.

"So far the dogs have detected three or four people inside this house, but they're all dead." said Gavor Kertesz, of the Hungarian "Spider"rescue team. Two Alsatians were roaming through the rubble of a levelled apartment but Mr Kertesz was almost flattened by a four-storey building nearby which collapsed in a pile of dust as he spoke.