Earthquake hits eastern Turkey; at least 41 dead

A strong earthquake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6, hit eastern Turkey on Monday, killing at least 41 people and knocking down houses in at least six small villages, the government said.

The quake affected villages near the town of Kovancilar, toppling stone or mud-brick homes and minarets of mosques, officials and media reports said. The worst-hit area was the village of Okcular where some 17 people were reported killed.

The government's crisis center said around 100 people were also injured in the quake, which occurred at 4:32 a.m. (0232 GMT, 9 p.m. EST Sunday) in Elazig province, about 550 kilometers (340 miles) east of Ankara, the capital, and caught many people in their sleep.

It was centered near the village of Basyurt, and was followed by more than 30 aftershocks, the strongest measuring 4.1, according to Istanbul's Kandilli Observatory seismology center.

Emergency workers were trying to rescue four people from debris, Gov. Muammer Erol said.

CNN-Turk television said the dead included four young sisters trapped in the rubble.

"Everything has been knocked down, there is not a stone in place," said Yadin Apaydin, administrator for the village of Yukari Kanatli, where he said at least three villagers died.

Authorities blocked access to Okcular village, to facilitate the entry and exit of ambulances and rescue teams on the village's narrow roads. Relatives rushed to the village for news of their loved ones.

"The village is totally flattened," Okcular's administrator Hasan Demirdag told private NTV television.

The quake was felt in the neighboring provinces of Tunceli, Bingol and Diyarbakir where residents fled to the streets in panic and spent the night outdoors.

Some of the injuries occurred during the panic, when people jumped from windows or balconies. Dogan news agency footage showed people bringing in the injured to hospitals by cars and taxis.

Kandilli Observatory's director, Mustafa Erdik, urged residents not to enter damaged homes, warning that they could topple from the aftershocks, which could last for days.

Television footage showed rescue workers and soldiers at Okcular lifting debris as villagers looked on. Two women sat on mattresses wrapped in blankets. Turkey's Red Crescent organization began setting up tents in the region.

Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, much of which lies atop the North Anatolian fault. In 1999, two powerful earthquakes struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people.

In 2007, an earthquake measuring 5.7 damaged buildings in Elazig, briefly trapping a woman under debris. In 2003, an earthquake measuring 6.4 magnitude collapsed a school dormitory in the neighboring province of Bingol province, killing 83 children. The collapse was blamed on poor construction.