Earthquake hits eastern Turkey killing at least 41

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The Independent Online

A strong earthquake hit eastern Turkey today, killing at least 41 people and knocking down houses in three small villages, the government said.

Mayor Bekir Yanilmaz, of the town of Kovancilar, said the victims were from the villages of Okcular, Yukari Kanatli and Kayali, where the quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6, toppled stone or mud-brick homes and the minarets of mosques.

The government's crisis centre said around 60 people were injured in the quake, which occurred at 4.31am (0232 GMT) in Elazig province, about 340 miles (550km) east of the capital, Ankara, and caught many people in their sleep.

It was centred near the village of Basyurt, and was followed by more than 20 aftershocks, the strongest measuring 4.1, according to Istanbul's Kandilli Observatory seismology centre.

Emergency workers were trying to rescue four people from debris, Governor Muammer Erol said.

CNN-Turk television said the dead included four young sisters trapped in the rubble.

"Everything has been knocked down, there is not a stone in place," said Yadin Apaydin, administrator for the village of Yukari Kanatli, where he said at least three villagers died.

Authorities blocked access to Okcular village, where most of the deaths occurred, to facilitate the entry and exit of ambulances and rescue teams on the village's narrow roads. Relatives rushed to the village for news of their loved ones.

The quake was felt in the neighbouring provinces of Tunceli, Bingol and Diyarbakir where residents fled to the streets in panic and spent the night outdoors.

Some of the injuries happened during the panic, when people jumped from windows or balconies. Dogan news agency footage showed people bringing in the injured to hospitals by cars and taxis.

Kandilli Observatory's director, Mustafa Erdik, urged residents not to enter damaged homes, warning that they could topple from the aftershocks, which could last for days.

Television footage showed rescue workers and soldiers at Okcular lifting debris as villagers looked on. Two women sat on mattresses wrapped in blankets. Turkey's Red Crescent organisation began setting up tents in the region.

Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, much of which lies on top of the North Anatolian fault. In 1999, two powerful earthquakes struck north-western Turkey, killing about 18,000 people.

Officials said later that the death toll had risen to 57 and at least six villages had been affected.