A total of 264 people were confirmed to have been killed by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake which struck around lunchtime on Sunday, according to Idris Naim Sener, the country’s interior minister.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told a news conference meanwhile that around 1,300 people injured.
Atalay, coordinating the government’s response at the quake zone in Van province, said tents were being assembled and food distributed as part of a major relief and rescue operation. The death toll was expected to rise further.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier rushed to the Kurdish-populated Van province where the 7.2-magnitude quake struck on Monday, and warned the toll could rise as more victims were found in the wreckage of shattered buildings.
“Search and rescue efforts will continue overnight,” he said.
Erdogan said the situation was particularly grave in Ercis, a district of around 100,000 people where around 55 apartment buildings have collapsed.
The government said that a total of 970 buildings had collapsed as a result of the quake and aftershocks, AFP reported.
In an earlier toll, Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said that 100 people had died in the city of Van and 117 in Ercis district, with another 1,090 injured in the nation’s worst quake in years, according to AFP.
In Van province officials scrambled to provide shelter for people rendered homeless or too afraid to go home while the aftershocks continued with alarming regularity.
“We are working on supplying people with places to spend the night, find shelter. One hundred tents are being erected in the city stadium now, and 700 more will be put up in the municipality stadium,” Sahin told Reuters in Ercis.
Television footage showed search and rescue teams recovering bodies from the rubble in Van and Ercis, working under floodlights powered by generators as night fell.
“People are panicked. The telecommunication services have collapsed. We cannot reach anybody,” Bekir Kaya, the mayor of Van, told NTV television.
Ordinary people joined in the recovery effort, using shovels and other tools as they searched through the rubble and tended to the dying and wounded.
“There are efforts to rescue people but the loss is big. I myself saw three to four dead,” one local man in Ercis told AFP.
Reuters television images from Ercis showed rescuers trying to clam one young boy, aged about 10, pinned beneath a concrete slab.
“Be patient, be patient,” they pleaded as the boy whimpered. The lifeless hand of an adult, with a wedding ring, was visible just a few centimeters (inches) in front of his face.
More survivors pulled out
Dogan news agency reported that 24 people were pulled from the rubble alive in the two hours after midnight.
Reuters photographer Osman Orsal earlier described seeing dead body after body being pulled from the debris.
“Ambulances, soldiers, emergency teams everywhere now, working on getting people out of collapsed buildings. I have seen many dead bodies being taken out, the teams are trying to find people alive,” Orsal said.
Countless people spent the night outdoors after the terrifying quake which also caused widespread electricity outages, huddling around fires for warmth as the temperatures hovered around freezing.
The strong shake had sent people rushing into the streets, screaming and wailing in fear as buildings swayed above them.
One nurse told CNN Turk news channel the town’s hospital was so badly damaged that staff were treating injured in the garden, and bodies were being left outside the building.
Turkey’s Kandilli seismological institute had said in an initial assessment that between 500 and 1,000 people were estimated to have been killed in the disaster.
Turkey mobilized some 1,275 search and rescue teams from 38 cities as well as 145 ambulances to speed to the aid of the victims.
The military said six battalions were also involved in search and rescue efforts.
Six helicopters, including four helicopter ambulances, as well as C-130 military cargo planes were dispatched to the area carrying tents, food and medicine.
Some 200 inmates fled the prison in Van province when the building was damaged in the quake, media reports said, adding that 50 of them returned to prison later after seeing their families.
Standing shoulder to shoulder
U.S. President Barack Obama said he had been following reports of the disaster “with great concern” and offered his condolences to the victims.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Turkish ally in this difficult time, and are ready to assist the Turkish authorities,” he said in a statement, according to AFP.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the brave men and women who are working to bring assistance to this stricken region.”
The epicenter of the quake, which struck at 1041 GMT, was at Tabanli in Van province, the Kandilli institute said, and was followed by two strong aftershocks.
Although the quake damaged Van’s airport it did not disrupt air traffic, the Anatolia news agency quoted civil aviation authorities as saying, and airlines launched additional flights to Van.
The quake was also felt across the border in northwestern Iran, causing some panic in major cities, Iranian media reported. They did not report any deaths or serious damage.
Iran’s Red Crescent has sent rescue teams, ambulances and a field hospital to Turkey to help out in the wake of a devastating quake there, the state news agency IRNA reported Monday.
Mahmoud Mozafar, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, was quoted as saying that “Turkish officials have defined an area in the Van region for Iranian rescuers to bring medical assistance to the injured.”
Iran has sent 20 rescuers, 20 ambulances, a field hospital, food supplies and 50 tents for emergency shelter to the quake-hit region in Turkey, which lies just over the border with Iran, Mozafar said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi telephoned his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, to express his condolences over the loss of life suffered in the disaster.
After visiting the quake zone, Erdogan returned to Ankara, where he is expected to chair a cabinet meeting to discuss the response to the disaster.
He said Turkey was able to meet the challenge itself, but thanked countries that had offered help, including Armenia and Israel, two governments that have strained relations with Ankara, Reuters reported.
In 1999, two strong quakes in northwest Turkey’s heavily populated and industrialized regions left some 20,000 dead. A powerful earthquake in the town of Caldiran in Van province killed 3,840 people in 1976.