VAN, Turkey (Reuters) - Survivors of an earthquake in southeast Turkey cried out in grief and terror for those buried under the rubble on Sunday, while others clambered over collapsed buildings searching for signs of life.
This Reuters journalist arrived in the stricken city of Van to see police holding back a crowd of distraught people from the scene of destruction.
A father whose daughter was among those believed trapped under debris screamed hysterically, waving his hands in the air as rescue workers desperately tried to reach her.
“Don’t touch me! Don’t talk to me!” he shouted as crowds tried to console him. “Oh Mohammad, oh Mohammad!” He shouted.
Rescuers working under floodlights tried to reach those trapped and ambulance crews waited near two collapsed buildings. Other buildings next to them were unscathed.
Three teenagers were believed under rubble right beside me. People were climbing over the shattered masonry shouting: “Is there anyone there?”
Bystanders reckoned there were 20 people trapped in that building and around 70 people in a crumpled six-storey apartment block. Seven had been dragged clear, they told me.
One elderly rescue worker sat exhausted, tears streaming through the dust covering his face, until people led him away.
Trucks and cranes were used to shift the rubble. Some rescuers used drills to break concrete slabs into more manageable sizes for lifting machinery.
Normal electricity supplies were cut by the earthquake, so rescuers powered their equipment with generators.
In the bitterly cold night, the situation appeared chaotic, with too few officials on hand to manage as aftershocks continued to rock the city.
Some people sat outside their houses on the street. The center of the city was pitch black due to the power outage. Some dragged suitcases along the streets.
“We heard cries and groaning from underneath the debris, we are waiting for the rescue teams to arrive,” Halil Celik told Reuters as he stood beside the ruins of building that had collapsed before his eyes.
“All of a sudden, a quake tore down the building in front of me. All the bystanders, we all ran to the building and rescued two injured people from the ruins.”
Turkey’s Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute estimated that between 500 and 1,000 people could have perished in the 7.2-magnitude earthquake.
Around 10 buildings collapsed in Van city and about 25-30 buildings were brought to the ground in the nearby district of Ercis, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told reporters.
My photographer colleague in Ercis, a town some 100 km north at the epicenter of the tremor, where casualties were expected to be highest, said it was difficult to assess the damage there because of the darkness.
He saw residents working alongside the emergency services.
Reporting by Jonathon Burch and Osman Orsel; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Andrew Roche