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217 dead after 7.2 quake in Turkey

  |   Oct. 23, 2011 at 11:58 PM
ISTANBUL, Turkey, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Turkey's government said it was mobilizing help for areas pummeled by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake a top official said killed at least 217 people Sunday.

Turkish Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said 117 of the fatalities were recorded in Ercis and 100 in Van, the Anatolian news agency reported Monday.

Sahin said about 1,100 others were injured.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the death toll was expected to grow, CNN reported.

The U.S. news network said rescue teams were trying to get to villages in the quake strike zone and Erdogan said 55 buildings collapsed in Ercis and rescuers worked into the night to get to people trapped in rubble.

Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told CNN 10 buildings had collapsed in central Van.

Search-and-rescue teams, heavy equipment and ambulances were dispatched to the eastern areas around Lake Van following the major quake the U.S. Geological Survey in Colorado initially measured as a magnitude 7.3, then lowered slightly to 7.2.

At least 20 aftershocks shook the region, the largest a 6-magnitude.

Erdogan was expected to arrive in the area Sunday, his office said.

Offers of assistance were pouring in as well. Israel, which has been at odds with Turkey over Palestinian relations, offered whatever help was required, the Israeli Defense Ministry said.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said, however, while the country is grateful for offers of help, it intends to handle the disaster on its own, CNN said.

Citizens using flashlights and shovels were clearing away the rubble of collapsed buildings in Van and nearby cities. Ambulances and other vehicles were finding their way blocked by debris in the streets.

Officials at the Kandilli seismology center in Istanbul told Today's Zaman the shaker had the potential to cause at least 1,000 deaths around the epicenter.

"On behalf of the American people, I express my deepest condolences to the families of the victims," U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement released by the White House. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the brave men and women who are working to bring assistance to this stricken region."

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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