Rescue efforts under way after deadly earthquake in Turkey, Greece

Powerful earthquake struck Turkey’s Aegean coast and north of Greek island of Samos on Friday, killing at least 39 people.

More than 100 people have been pulled out of the rubble in Izmir [Murad Sezer/Reuters]

Rescue teams have ploughed through concrete blocks and the debris of eight collapsed buildings on Saturday in search of survivors of a powerful earthquake that struck Turkey’s Aegean coast and north of the Greek island of Samos on Friday, killing at least 39 people.

More than 800 people were injured from the earthquake that toppled buildings in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, and triggered a small tsunami in the district of Seferihisar and on Samos.

The earthquake, which the Kandilli Institute said had a magnitude of 6.9, struck at 2.51pm (11:51 GMT) in Turkey. Its epicentre was in the Aegean northeast of Samos.

The earthquake was followed by more than 400 aftershocks, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD.

Early on Saturday, onlookers cheered as rescuers lifted a teenager out of the rubble of a destroyed eight-storey apartment building.

Friends and relatives waited outside the building for news of loved ones still trapped, including employees of a dentist’s surgery that was located on the ground floor.

Two other women were rescued from another collapsed two-storey building.

At least 37 people were killed in Izmir, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said from a crisis coordination centre before visiting the wrecked sites.

Among the dead was an elderly woman who drowned in the small tsunami.

Two teenagers were killed on Samos after being struck by a collapsing wall. At least 19 people were injured on the island, with two, including a 14-year-old, airlifted to Athens and seven hospitalised on the island, health authorities said.

The small tsunami that hit the Turkish coast also affected Samos, with seawater flooding streets in the main harbour town of Vathi.

Authorities warned people to stay away from the coast and from potentially damaged buildings.

Officials told Al Jazeera at least seven buildings were destroyed while almost 10 were in danger of collapsing, adding that about 1,500 officers are involved in the search-and-rescue operation that has been on for about 24 hours.

Izmir’s residents spent Friday night in tents and their cars.

“Everybody says it was 15 seconds but it was like 15 hours for us,” an Izmir resident, who did not wish to be named, told Al Jazeera.

“Everything inside our house dropped to the floor. The building next to ours was completely destroyed and ours has cracks in the walls. We are obviously happy to get out alive. Some of our neighbours, unfortunately, did not make it.”

The powerful earthquake that hit Turkey and Greece levelled buildings and created a sea surge that flooded streets near the Turkish resort city of Izmir [Ozan Kose/AFP]
Some residents spent the night under tents in Izmir [Sait Burak Utucu/Al Jazeera]

People stood near rescue workers, waiting for their family members to be retrieved from the debris.

There would be regular applause from onlookers as someone was pulled out but from time to time, rescue workers would request silence to be able to hear people trapped under the rubble.

A Turkish mother and three of her children were pulled from under the rubble of a collapsed building where they had been trapped for almost 18 hours.

Speaking from Izmir, Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu said the situation was chaotic across the district as rescue workers continued to look for more people missing under the rubble.

“About 100 people have been rescued across Izmir so far,” said Koseoglu, adding that many people are still waiting for missing members of their families.

The effect was felt across the eastern Greek islands and as far as Athens and Bulgaria.

In Turkey, it shook the regions of Aegean and Marmara, including Istanbul.

Istanbul’s governor said there were no reports of damage in the city.

Authorities warned residents in Izmir not to return to damaged buildings, saying they could collapse in strong aftershocks.

On Samos, an island with a population of about 45,000, residents were urged to stay away from coastal areas.

In a show of solidarity – rare in the wake of tense bilateral relations – Greek and Turkish government officials issued mutual messages of solidarity while the presidents of Greece and Turkey held a telephonic conversation.

Relations between Turkey and Greece have been tense with warships from both facing off in the Eastern Mediterranean in a dispute over maritime boundaries and energy exploration rights.

The continuing tension has led to fears of open conflict between the two neighbours and NATO allies.

Crisscrossed by extensive fault lines, Turkey is among the most earthquake-prone countries in the world.

More than 17,000 people were killed in August 1999 when a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck Izmit, a city southeast of Istanbul.

In 2011, an earthquake in the eastern city of Van killed more than 500 people.

Additional reporting by Sait Burak Utucu in Izmir

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies