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Hundreds of people in eastern Turkey have been sheltering in tents after a deadly earthquake left many homeless and exposed the region's poor construction standards.

Recep Akdag, the health minister, said the mud-brick homes typical of Turkey's
impoverished villages "topple down at the slightest of jolts, and those caught beneath die from lack of air".

"It has been this way for a hundred years, and we have to beat this," he said on Tuesday.

At least 51 people were killed in the 6.0 magnitude quake early on Monday in six villages near the town of Kovancilar in Elazig province.

"The number of deaths is related directly to the construction quality," Okan Tuysuz, a geologists from Istanbul University, said.

"Unfortunately, Turkey is a country poorly prepared for earthquakes in terms of building quality."

Aid distributed

Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, has said the government housing agency will build quake-proof homes in the area.

The Red Crescent and the government provided tents and other emergency aid to villagers struggling to cope in freezing temperatures.

"Stock breeding is the only thing we rely on, but 70 per cent of our animals are dead."

Nurettin Yildirim,
village elder

Digging through the rubble, they collected any remaining valuables from their collapsed homes.

"It was very cold last night and it was very crowded here, even children, elder people and patients were here," Cigdem Durmaz, a resident who spent the night in a tent, said.

"It was really cold, we were freezing. Thanks to the Turkish State, they provided us with tents, they delivered blankets and food supplies."

Survivors mourned not only dead relatives, but also the loss of large numbers of livestock, their only livelihood.

"Stock breeding is the only thing we rely on, but 70 per cent of our animals are dead," Nurettin Yildirim, the elderman of the Yukari Demirci village, said.

'Wake-up call'

Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Turkey, said while survivors received emergency aid quickly, there are concerns about what will happen in the long run.

"In wider terms for Turkey, I think this is a wake-up call. This is a reminder that Anatolia lies on a series of seismic fault line and that the consequences can be fatal," he said.

The Elazig province lies about 550 kilometres east of the capital, Ankara, and is near
the East Anatolian Fault - one of the two major fault lines that cross Turkey.

The other is the North Anatolian Fault, which runs near Turkey's largest city of Istanbul.

Scientists say it is a likely a huge quake will hit Istanbul in the next 30 years, warning of massive destruction in the city of about 12 million where migration from rural areas has led to widespread illegal construction.

Despite two massive quakes killing 18,000 people in northwest Turkey in 1999, seismologists and civil engineers warn that not enough has been done to protect Istanbul in the event of another strong temblor in the region.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies