Over 40 people were rescued from the rubble following a powerful earthquake in eastern Turkey, emergency officials said. The death toll continued to climb as hundreds of aftershocks rocked the affected areas.
Turkish authorities have said at least 35 people were killed and nearly 1,500 injured in the devastating earthquake on Friday, as rescue teams scrambled to reach those trapped in the rubble.
Thousands of rescuers were deployed to the eastern provinces of Elazig and Malatya, many of them searching for survivors in the small lakeside town of Sivrice, in Elazig — the epicenter of the 6.8 magnitude quake.
The tremor caused 72 buildings to collapse in Elazig, officials said, adding that hundreds more were damaged. Rescue teams recovered at least 45 survivors from the rubble, according to authorities.
"I was home during the earthquake. It lasted for so long, it was like a nightmare," an eyewitness local told the AFP news agency.
"I froze in the living room when it happened, my wife and our two children were screaming and running around," he said, adding that some of his neighbors jumped out of their windows in panic.
Rescuers are using their hands, drills and mechanical diggers to search for survivors at three sites in the Elazig province
'Why are they lying?'
Authorities said at least another 19 are believed to still be trapped across Elazig.
But some residents in Sivrice expressed doubt over the official figures and the government's transparency.
"They (the government) claim that only four people are trapped under the rubble," a local butcher told the AFP. "I have five relatives in that building."
"There are four floors and three flats per floor. If there were five people per flat, do the math. Why are they lying?" he asked.
Emergency workers and security forces were distributing tents, beds, and blankets — while wood and plastic were burned to keep the crowds of survivors warm. Mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories opened their doors to those forced out of their homes.
Fears for Istanbul
Hundreds of aftershocks have hit the region since Friday evening's tremor, including a 5.1 earthquake that hit Sivrice on Saturday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Elazig and Malatya, pledging that the state would do "everything we can" to help.
"We will not leave anyone in the open," he said.
Erdogan also urged the citizens to "ignore gossip and negative propaganda" linked to the earthquake, including social media posts where people called for financial aid.
Earlier, a prosecutor said there would be an investigation into the "provocative" online content. Turkey's broadcasting authority was also reportedly investigating media coverage of the earthquake.
Friday's quake renewed fears of a similar event happening in the 15-million metropolis of Istanbul, with experts warning that loose construction standards have left Turkey's biggest city unprepared for a major earthquake.
A powerful earthquake in 1999 struck near Istanbul, killing more than 17,000 people in the region.
dj/stb (AFP, AP, dpa)