International Committee on issues of Global Changes of the Geological Environment, “GEOCHANGE”

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The devastating earthquake in Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) -- As night fell over eastern Turkey on Sunday following the most powerful earthquake in more than a decade, citizens were using flashlights and shovels as they clambered over the rubble of collapsed buildings looking for survivors.
At least seven aftershocks rattled the region, one of the nation's poorest.


The extent of casualties was not immediately known; crisis officials said it was too early to release any figures.

The U.S. Geological Survey initially reported the quake had a magnitude of 7.3, then revised it down to 7.2.

Some 25 apartment buildings and a student dormitory collapsed in the town of Ercis on the north shore of Lake Van, the Turkish Red Crescent said.

Local rescuers took many wounded people out of the dormitory, the Red Crescent statement said, without saying exactly how many.

A health services building also collapsed, along with part of a hospital, CNN sister network CNN Turk reported. At least two doctors were thought to be in the rubble of the health services building, the network said. The injured were being treated in the hospital's garden.

Official rescue efforts were under way in Ercis, said CNN Turk reporter Sevda Incesu, but residents were also conducting efforts of their own. Ambulances were having trouble getting into town because the roads were littered with rubble, she said.

Video footage from the scene showed survivors freed from the rubble being loaded onto stretchers amid a crush of rescue workers and bystanders. Heavy equipment was used to sift through rubble as residents gathered around small fires.

The Red Crescent called for rescue workers, heavy machinery and drinking water. A crisis center was set up by the country's Health Ministry in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said 10 buildings had collapsed in the center of the city of Van, citing local authorities.

Health Minister Recep Akdag said an air ambulance and several helicopters would go to the quake zone.

Television pictures from Van province showed rescuers and members of the public climbing over massive piles of cinder blocks that had been a building before the earthquake hit.

Rescue teams of about 500 people were on the ground, according to the crisis center, and additional aid teams were dispatched from 29 surrounding cities. Medical helicopters were transporting the injured to hospitals in other provinces, the center said.

Two tent hospitals were being set up in Ercis, and two cargo planes were dispatched from the capital carrying medical teams and aid.

A seven-story building collapsed on Kazim Karabekir Street in the city of Van, and more buildings were reduced to rubble the village of Tabanli in Van province, the Anatolian news agency said. It was unknown how many people were trapped.

Video from CNN Turk showed the inside of shaking buildings, and people gathering outside on the streets.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Health Minister Recep Akdag arrived in the area Sunday, according to the Ministry of Health's crisis center.


Israel offered Turkey "any help it may require" after the earthquake, Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office said. Israel and Turkey, once close allies, saw a deterioration in relations in a dispute over an Israeli naval commando raid on the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.

Turkey is "no stranger to having these seismic events," but Sunday's quake is considered major, CNN Meteorologist Reynolds Wolf reported.

A magnitude 7.6 earthquake in Izmit, Turkey, killed more than 17,000 people in 1999, according to the USGS. A magnitude 7.2 tremor in Duzce the same year killed 894 people, the USGS reported.

Sunday's major quake hit at 1:41 p.m. local time and was followed by at least seven aftershocks, American and Turkish monitoring agencies reported.

It took place about 12 miles from Van, the USGS said.

An official Turkish monitoring office reported aftershocks ranging in magnitude from 2.6 to 5.8, all within an hour of the first quake.

The USGS reported a depth of 4.5 miles, or 7.2 kilometers; the center in Turkey said the quake was about 3 miles, or 5 kilometers, deep.

One concern is displacement of water along Lake Van, which could send water gushing into nearby areas, particularly along the west side, Wolf reported.

Other nations and organizations offered condolences and assistance to Turkey.