A powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey on Sunday, collapsing buildings, bringing down telephone and electricity lines, and killing scores of people.
Hardest hit was the town of Ercis, where at least 59 people were killed and 150 injured, according to local media reports. But officials at Turkey’s Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute feared as many as 1,000 may have died in the mountaneous region near the border of Iran.
Rescue workers and residents dug through piles of debris using shovels and bare hands to free people trapped in the rubble, television footage showed. Panicked survivors shouted for missing loved ones.
"There are so many dead. … There is too much destruction," Zulfikar Arapoglu, the mayor of Ercis, in the province of Van, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. "We need urgent aid. We need medics."
At least 25 people were killed in the provincial capital, also called Van, about 55 miles south of Ercis, AP said.
"We heard cries and groaning from underneath the debris," Halil Celik told Reuters at the site of a collapsed building. “We all ran to the building and rescued two injured people from the ruins.”
Another death, of an 8-year-old girl, was reported in the nearby province of Bitlis.
Frequent aftershocks were said to be hampering rescue efforts.
The powerful quake struck at 1:41 p.m. and was centered in the village of Tabanli in Van province, the Kandilli observatory said.
The quake was also felt in northwest Iran, causing panic in several major cities, Iranian media reported. Several houses were said to have collapsed and a number of people injured in the Iranian border town of Chaldran.
Turkey is one of the world's most seismically active countries and is crisscrossed by several major fault lines. In 1999, two earthquakes of magnitude greater than 7.0 killed about 18,000 people in northwestern Turkey, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Smaller earthquakes happen almost daily.
-- Alexandra Zavis in Los Angeles.
Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.
Photo: Rescue workers in the village of Tabanli try to save people trapped under debris after an earthquake Sunday in eastern Turkey. Credit: Abdurrahman Antakyali / Anadolu Agency