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Earthquake in eastern Turkey kills at least 57

A strong earthquake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6, hit eastern Turkey on Monday, killing 57 people and knocking down houses in at least six small villages, an official said.

world Updated: Mar 08, 2010 15:32 IST

A strong earthquake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6, hit eastern Turkey on Monday, killing 57 people and knocking down houses in at least six small villages, an official said.

The temblor struck six villages in Elazig province, toppling stone or mud-brick homes and minarets of mosques. Bekir Yanilmaz, the mayor of the nearby town of Kovancilar, provided CNN-Turk television with the death toll. The government's crisis center put the number at 51.

The worst-hit area was the village of Okcular where some 17 people were reported killed and homes crumbled into piles of dirt.

Another 13 people were killed in the village of Yukari Demirci, Gov Muammer Erol said.

The government's crisis center said around 100 people were also injured in the quake, which occurred at 4:32 am (0232 GMT, 9 p.m. EST Sunday) in Elazig province, about 550 kilometers (340 miles) east of Ankara, the capital.

The earthquake, which caught many people in their sleep, was centered near the village of Basyurt. It was followed by more than 30 aftershocks, the strongest measuring 5.5, the Kandilli seismology center said.

Emergency workers were trying to rescue four people from debris, Gov 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, 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 village is totally flattened," Okcular's administrator Hasan Demirdag told private NTV television.

Ali Riza Ferhat, an Okcular resident, said he was woken by the jolt.

"I tried to get out of the door but it wouldn't open. I came out of the window and started helping my neighbors," he told NTV television.

"We removed six bodies."

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

Some of the injuries occurred 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. Rescuers could be seen digging into dirt and then removing an elderly man. The man had died and his body was quickly covered with a sheet.

Two women sat on mattresses wrapped in blankets. The temblor also knocked down barns, killing farm animals.

Turkey's Red Crescent organization sent tents and blankets to the region.

Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, much of which lies on top of the North Anatolian fault. In 1999, two powerful earthquakes struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people. In 2007, an earthquake measuring 5.7 damaged buildings in Elazig, briefly trapping a woman under debris.

In 2003, an earthquake measuring 6.4 magnitude collapsed a school dormitory in the neighboring province of Bingol province, killing 83 children. The collapse was blamed on poor construction.