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Death toll from earthquake in Turkey's Van province rises to 279

(Xinhua)

08:34, October 25, 2011

ANKARA, Oct. 24 (Xinhua) -- The death toll in quake-struck Van province in eastern Turkey has increased to 279 and around 1,300 people were injured, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Monday. Hundreds of others are believed to be buried under rubbles after one of Turkey's most powerful quakes in a decade.

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit the eastern province of Van on Sunday afternoon. The quake severely damaged Ercis, a town of 75, 000 people, close to the Iranian border where about 80 multi- storey buildings collapsed. The region is among Turkey's most earthquake-prone zones.

The Van city, about 88 km south of Ercis, also suffered substantial damage where some 55 buildings were flattened, including a student dormitory.

About 3,000-4,000 buildings were estimated to have been heavily damaged in the area, while some 970 buildings were severely damaged.

"As the rescue work progresses, the death toll in Ercis will possibly increase, however, the figures are not likely to be scary numbers," Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said on Monday.

Sahin said some people are still trapped inside some 40 buildings, implying that the death toll could increase substantially.

"Because the buildings are made of mud brick, they are more vulnerable to quakes. I must say that almost all buildings in such villages are destroyed," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Van on Sunday night.

Some rescue teams have been digging through rubbles of flattened multi-storey buildings searching for survivors believed to be trapped beneath. Residents in the quake-hit region spent the night outdoors, while the Turkish Red Crescent set up tents, field hospitals and kitchens to help those that became homeless.

So far 26 planes carrying relief material, hundreds of engineering vehicles and large quantities of aid material were sent to the disaster-stricken area, a statement from prime ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate said.

Nearly 2,400 search and rescue personnel, 355 engineering vehicles and more than 100 ambulances are sent to the region.

Yalcin Akay, a local resident whose one leg was injured, was rescued from a collapsed six-story building after he called police and described his location, the semi-official Anatolia news agency reported.

Some villagers complained about lack of tents, food and drinking water.

Nearly 200 prisoners escaped from a prison in Van after one of its walls collapsed, and 50 of them returned after meeting their families.

Turkey refused assistance from other countries, saying foreign aid is not currently needed.

"I extend my thanks to those presidents who called by phone and shared our sorrow, stated solidarity and offered assistance," President Abdullah Gul said in a written statement on Monday.

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