Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 July 2020

Turkey's President Erdogan slams earthquake 'propaganda' as death toll rises

Rescuers are scrambling to rescue people from under rubble as 35 are declared dead

The death toll from a powerful earthquake that struck eastern Turkey has risen to 35, officials said on Sunday, as rescue efforts continued.

The magnitude-6.8 quake hit on Friday evening, with its epicentre in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in Elazig province. It affected cities near by and was felt in neighbouring countries.

We don't have a safe place to stay right now

Emre Gocer, local resident

Most of those killed were in Elazig while at least four died in nearby Malatya, Turkey's government's disaster and emergency management agency said. It said 1,607 were injured.

Rescuers rushed to rescue people from under the rubble on Saturday and Sunday.

Nearly 80 buildings collapsed while 645 were heavily damaged in Elazig and Malatya, the agency said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised on Saturday that Turkey's housing agency would "do whatever is necessary and make sure no one is left without a home".

Mr Erdogan attended the funeral of a woman and her son in Elazig on Saturday, later visiting Malatya after cancelling a speech in Istanbul.

He warned people against repeating "negative" hearsay that the country was unprepared for earthquakes.

"Do not listen to rumours, do not listen to anyone's negative, contrary propaganda and know that we are your servants," Mr Erdogan said.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the rescue operation was largely finished, although emergency teams found six people trapped under rubble.

"It has been around 36 hours but we are still in the hours where we can hope," Mr Soylu said in Elazig, about 550 kilometres east of the capital Ankara.

He said aftershocks were continuing, and the disaster agency said 20 of the 733 registered so far were of magnitude 4 or more.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said that 104 people were being treated in hospitals, of whom 13 were in intensive care, but none were in a critical condition.

Environment and Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum said the quake had damaged buildings in several provinces and 12 needed to be demolished immediately.

Mr Kurum later said the government would begin a rebuilding process and 1.5 million structures needing "immediate renewal".

Emergency workers and security forces distributed tents, beds and blankets as overnight temperatures dropped below freezing in the affected areas.

Mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories were opened for hundreds who left their homes after the quake.

"The earthquake was very severe. We desperately ran out," resident Emre Gocer told the state-run Anadolu news agency as he sheltered with his family at a sports hall in Sivrice.

"We don't have a safe place to stay right now."

While visiting Sivrice and the city of Elazig, Mr Erdogan promised state support for those affected by the disaster.

"We will not leave anyone in the open," he said.

Updated: January 27, 2020 02:22 AM

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