More than 200 people have been killed in the 7.2 magnitude quake that devastated parts of eastern Turkey, according to Idris Naim Sahin, the country's interior minister.
Overseeing emergency operations in Ercis, one of the worst hit towns, Sahin told reporters early on Monday that 117 people were confirmed dead in Ercis and 100 in Van city, the provincial capital.
A total of 1,090 people are known to have been injured by the quake on Sunday afternoon, he said. Officials said hundreds of people remained unaccounted for and rescue teams were working through the night looking for survivors beneath the rubble.
The hardest hit area was Ercis, an eastern city of 75,000 close to the Iranian border, which lies in one of Turkey's most earthquake-prone regions. The bustling city of Van, about 90km to the south, also sustained substantial damage. Highways in the area caved in.
The death toll will rise further when information from other towns and remote villages comes in, an official at the provincial crisis centre in the city of Van told Reuters news agency.
|Up to 80 buildings collapsed in Erics and 10 in Van, the Turkish Red Cresent said [Reuters]
Up to 80 buildings collapsed in Ercis, including a dormitory, and 10 buildings collapsed in Van, the Turkish Red Crescent said. The sheer number of collapsed buildings gave rise to fears that the death toll could rise substantially.
US scientists recorded over 100 aftershocks in eastern Turkey within 10 hours of the quake, including one with a magnitude of 6.0. Authorities advised people to stay away from damaged homes, warning they could collapse in the aftershocks.
Civilians joined in the desperate search, using their bare hands and working under generator-powered floodlights.
'Desperate to help'
Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from Van, said rescuers lacked proper tools to search for survivors and were using equipment from nearby roadworks.
"Everyone here is desperate to help but no one has the right tools and the expertise," she said.
"We're not seeing what we know exists in Turkey, professionally trained earthquake disaster relief teams. They are saying they can hear voices, but there are so many other noises here, so it's impossible to pick up anything with any certainty."
The centre of the city was pitch black due to power outages.
Residents in Van and Ercis lit campfires, preparing to spend the night outdoors while the Red Crescent began setting up tents in a stadium. Others sought shelter with relatives in nearby villages.
Students gathered around a camp fire in Van's centre told journalists that bread prices on the black market had more than quadrupled. Dazed survivors wandered past vehicles crushed by falling masonry.
Rescue efforts went deep into the night under generator-powered floodlights. Workers tied steel rods around large concrete slabs in Van, then lifted them with heavy machinery.
The death toll is expected to rise
Residents sobbed outside the ruins of one flattened eight-story building, hoping that missing relatives would be found. Witnesses said eight people were pulled from the rubble, but frequent aftershocks hampered search efforts. By late evening, some joy emerged as a ninth, a teenage girl, was pulled out alive.
Some inmates escaped a prison in Van after one of its walls collapsed. TRT television said around 150 inmates had fled, but a prison official said the number was much smaller and many later returned.
Many buildings also collapsed in the district of Celebibag, near Ercis, including student dormitories, hotels and gas stations.
"There are many people under the rubble," Veysel Keser, the mayor of Celebibag, told NTV. "People are in agony, we can hear their screams for help."
Authorities had no information yet on remote villages but the provincial governor was touring the region by helicopter and the government sent in tents, field kitchens and blankets.
The earthquake also shook buildings in neighbouring Armenia and Iran.
In the Armenian capital of Yerevan, 160km from Ercis, people rushed into the streets in fear but no damage or injuries were reported. Armenia was the site of a devastating earthquake in 1988 that killed 25,000 people.
Sunday's quake caused panic in several Iranian towns close to the Turkish border and caused cracks in buildings in the city of Chaldoran, Iranian state TV reported.
Major geological faultlines cross Turkey and small earthquakes are a near daily occurrence. Two large quakes in 1999 killed more than 20,000 people in northwest Turkey.
More recently, a 6.0-magnitude quake in March 2010 killed 51 people in eastern Turkey, while in 2003, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake killed 177 people in the southeastern city of Bingol.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies