CNN-Turk television said rescue teams dispatched to the area were working to save six people trapped under rubble.

in depth

  Timeline: Recent major earthquakes

The quake was followed by more than 30 aftershocks, the strongest measuring 4.1, according to Istanbul's Kandilli Observatory seismology centre.

Al Jazeera's Serpil Karacan, reporting from Turkey, said the military was "involved in rescue efforts" and that it was in control of some of the roads.

"The population [in the affected area] is not high and for that reason the death toll may not be as high as it would have been in the city centre.

"We've had a very wet winter and in this [affected] place there are mud houses and their ceilings are very heavy. They have been taking a lot of water this year and that may have contributed to the damage we see," she said.

At least four of the victims were young sisters, according to the private Dogan news agency.

Nursel Sengezer, a reporter for the agency in Karakocan, said two more children were buried under rubble in the village of Yukari Kanatli.

Villages 'flattened'

"Everything has been knocked down, there is not a stone in place," Yadin Apaydin, an administrator for the village of Yukari Kanatli, said. 

"Everything has been knocked down, there is not a stone in place"

Yadin Apaydin, an administrator in Yukari Kanatli village

Authorities blocked access to Okcular village, to facilitate the entry and exit of ambulances and rescue teams on the village's narrow roads.

"The village is totally flattened," Hasan Demirdag, Okcular's administrator, told NTV television.

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

The epicentre was in eastern Turkey, 45km (28 miles) west of the town of Bingol, and 625km (388 miles) east of Ankara.

Deadly earthquakes are frequent in Turkey,which is crossed by several active fault-lines.

Two powerful quakes in the heavily populated northwest claimed about 20,000 lives in August and November 1999.

In 2003, an earthquake measuring 6.4 brought down a school dormitory in the neighbouring province of Bingol province, killing 83 children

In 2007, an earthquake measuring 5.7 damaged buildings in Elazig.