Powerful Earthquake Strikes Eastern Turkey

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey on Sunday, collapsing dozens of buildings into piles of twisted steel and chunks of concrete. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host: A magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck eastern Turkey today, collapsing dozens of buildings in southeastern Van Province. Rescue crews are searching for survivors, but Turkey's Kandilli Observatory estimates that the death toll could reach 500 to 1,000 people. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul.

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PETER KENYON: Local officials reported apartment buildings, a school dormitory and hotels were reduced to rubble by the powerful earthquake. This video posted on YouTube appears to show the quake as it happened. Bookcases crashed to the floor and furniture bounces off the floor as an apartment shakes violently. The epicenter of the earthquake was put in the village of Tablani in eastern Van Province, not far with the border with Iran. The town of Ercis and the city of Van both experienced heavy damage.

The estimate of 500 to 1,000 fatalities appears to be based on the magnitude of the earthquake and casualty figures from past quakes. Officials said it could be sometime before the actual death toll from this quake is known.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reportedly on his way to visit the quake zone. In some towns, telephone and electricity are cut off, while in others, phone lines are jammed as panicked relatives try to account for their loved ones or get news of the disaster.

Several powerful aftershocks were reported. At least 50 people were being treated for injuries in Van, with that number expected to rise significantly.

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KENYON: Turkish television said the airport in Van was damaged, with planes being diverted to other cities. Turkish television footage showed families huddled outdoors in Van, describing their panic as the quake hit. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was relatively shallow, just over 12 miles below the surface. In general, the shallower an earthquake, the greater the potential for destruction. The Turkish Red Crescent was mobilizing relief aid, as local officials made urgent appeals for help.

Turkey sits atop a number of fault lines and has suffered several deadly quakes. One last year killed 41 villagers in southeastern Turkey. The deadliest in recent times came in 1999, when a pair of strong quakes killed some 20,000 people. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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