ANKARA, Turkey – Cries of panic and horror filled the air as a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey on Sunday, killing at least 138 people as buildings pancaked and crumpled into rubble. The death toll was expected to rise as rescuers sifted through the rubble and reached outlying villages.
Tens of thousands fled into the streets running, screaming or trying to reach relatives on cell phones as apartment and office buildings cracked or collapsed. As the full extent of the damage became clear, survivors dug in with shovels or even their bare hands, desperately trying to rescue the trapped and the injured.
“There are many people under the rubble,” Veysel Keser, the mayor of the district of Celebibag, told NTV. “People are in agony. We can hear their screams for help.”
Celebibag is near the hardest-hit area: Ercis, an eastern city of 75,000 close to the Iranian border and on one of Turkey’s most earthquake-prone zones. The bustling city of Van, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Ecris, also sustained substantial damage. Highways in the area caved in. The temblor struck at 1:41 p.m., the U.S. Geological Survey said.