At least 39 people have died after a major earthquake struck western Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, adding that as many as 103 survivors have been freed from collapsed buildings.
A total of 885 people were hospitalized, 667 of whom have already been dismissed, Erdogan told reporters in Turkey’s third-largest city, Izmir, where a 6.6-magnitude earthquake destroyed nearly 20 buildings and triggered a sea surge.
Around 3,000 tents have been set up, while student dormitories are ready to host locals who must stay away from damaged buildings, Erdogan said.
The Turkish president thanked world leaders for messages of solidarity, adding that over 90 countries have shared condolences.
More than 30 hours into operations, as many as 5,000 rescue workers were still searching for signs of life under the rubble of at least nine collapsed buildings in central Izmir on Saturday, the state-run broadcaster TRT showed.
On top of an eight-storey Riza Bey apartment block in Bayrakli district that had collapsed, rescuers tirelessly drilled, using cranes to remove cement blocks in hopes of reaching survivors. More than 20 people are believed to be trapped in the wreckage, TRT added.
The latest survivor was a 62-year-old man, identified as Halim Sari.
Emergency authority AFAD shared a video of the rescue efforts, showing a rescuer calling on Sari to stay calm, minutes before he was pulled from under a massive block.
Earlier, in a separate operation, rescuers pulled a mother, identified as Seher Dereli Perincek, and her three children from the rubble of an eight-storey building. One of the children has died, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said. Efforts are underway to reach her fourth child at the Doganlar apartment block, TRT said. Twenty more people are believed to be trapped at the same site, TRT said.
This is the third deadly earthquake so far this year in Turkey, which sits on several active seismic fault lines. Two separate earthquakes in the country’s east killed more than 40 people in January.
Earlier in the day, Erdogan vowed to rebuild homes for those affected and speed up earthquake safety measures.
A devastating quake near Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, in 1999 killed more than 17,000 people in the greater region.
Turkey has since introduced stricter construction regulations and initiated projects to rebuild weak buildings, particularly the unregulated apartments that mushroomed amid a rush to build up urban centres since 1970s. The opposition has criticized Erdogan’s government for failing to accelerate urban transformation efforts.
Most of the collapsed buildings in Izmir are more than 35 years old and were built in poor standards, experts argued on TRT broadcast.
“We swiftly need to overcome bureaucratic obstacles before urban development,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told reporters on Saturday in Izmir.
He urged parliament to take action.