Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has said the government is “seriously” preparing to deal with a possible strong earthquake in Istanbul, the country’s largest city and economic hub.
He made the remark in a televised interview late on Sunday, two days after a deadly magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit Turkey’s southeastern provinces of Elazig and Malatya.
“We expect a [magnitude] 7.5 earthquake in Istanbul … We are seriously working on the possible scenario of the earthquake,” he told broadcaster CNN Turk.
Soylu said that following a magnitude 5.8 tremor in Istanbul in September, government agencies have been coordinating regular meetings between 28 working groups to prepare for the event of a magnitude 7.5 quake.
“This is a very complex study, covering things from what to do to protect national treasures in the Topkapi Palace to the needs of the citizens in the meeting places,” Soylu added.
Friday’s disaster killed at least 38 people – 34 in Elazig and four in Malatya – and injured more than 1,600, according to Turkish authorities.
Rescue operations had largely been concluded by late Sunday but rescuers were still searching for three people in Elazig, about 550km (342 miles) east of the capital, Ankara, Soylu said, adding that the teams reached the disaster zone in less than three hours after it happened.
“We are still hopeful, we haven’t lost hope,” he said.
Those rescued included a 35-year-old woman and her infant daughter in the Mustafa Pasa district of Elazig. Rescuers who heard their screams took several hours to reach them in freezing temperatures, state media said.
“Can you hear me?” television footage showed a rescuer telling the mother. “We are coming. We will save you.”
“Please get me out, I cannot stand it any more. Get my daughter, I am nothing without my child,” she replied before being safely lifted out on a crane.
In a nearby neighbourhood, rescue workers stood on mountains of debris where the earthquake had split an apartment building in half. They dug through using buckets, blowing whistles when they needed silence to listen for trapped people.
Rescue teams supported by thousands of emergency workers from other provinces and by hundreds of volunteers had pulled 45 people from under the rubble since the earthquake, Turkey‘s AFAD disaster authority said.
Speaking on Saturday during a visit to Elazig and Malatya, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said steel-framed houses would rapidly be built for the displaced residents. On Sunday, he said new and permanent houses would also be provided soon.
“We do not have the luxury of being slow. We cannot be late and we will not allow any delays,” he said.
AFAD said it had sent more than 10,400 tents, 17,000 beds, 37,000 blankets, heaters and food supplies to affected areas and Soylu said AFAD had received 7 million lire ($1.18m) from a public donation campaign.
The agency said 1,521 buildings had been damaged, including 645 heavily damaged and 76 collapsed structures. In a statement, it said it had transferred 3 million lire ($504.5) in emergency aid to each of the municipalities in Elazig and Malatya.
It warned residents not to enter damaged buildings because of the danger of collapse and further aftershocks. It said there had been 844 damaged buildings.
Turkey has a history of strong earthquakes. More than 17,000 people were killed in August 1999 when a 7.6 magnitude quake struck Izmit, a city southeast of Istanbul. In 2011, another one in the eastern city of Van killed more than 500.