Turkey: Quake kills at least 3, traps dozens

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — An earthquake struck eastern Turkey on Wednesday night, killing at least three people and leaving dozens trapped in the rubble of toppled buildings damaged in a previous temblor, which had killed 600 people.

About two-dozen buildings collapsed in the provincial capital of Van following a 5.7-magnitude quake, though most of them were empty or had been declared unfit because they were weakened by the earlier quake, according to media reports.

In a grim replay of scenes from last month’s quake in the same region, men climbed onto piles of debris and frantically clawed at twisted steel and crumbled concrete in an attempt to find survivors.

Voices could be heard calling for help from under the debris, according to Turkish media.

Rescue workers used the glare of high-powered lights to work through the night. There were several aftershocks.

A small fire broke out at a hospital but all patients were safely evacuated.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was in Van to visit survivors of the previous quake on the last day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice. He said 15 people were rescued alive and transported to hospitals by air ambulance.

Davutoglu said rescue teams were searching for survivors under the wreckage of three buildings, and 22 of the 25 buildings that collapsed in Van were empty.

One of the buildings that collapsed was the Bayram Hotel, Van’s best-known hotel. It was at least 40 years old, and had been renovated last year. Some of the guests were journalists who were covering the aftermath of the 7.2-magnitude quake on Oct. 23, which left thousands homeless and led a number of countries to send tents, blankets and other supplies to assist Turkey in the aid effort.

Turkey’s Dogan news agency said two of its reporters were missing.

Ozgur Gunes, a cameraman for Turkey’s Cihan news agency, told Haber Turk television that some trapped journalists had sent text messages to colleagues asking to be rescued.

He had left the hotel before the quake, but rushed back to collect his camera after it struck, only to find the building toppled.

“There was dust everywhere and the hotel was flattened,” he said. He told Sky Turk television the building had some small cracks before the quake, but he and other guests were told there was no structural damage.

State-run TRT television said at least three bodies were recovered and, citing a hotel worker, reported that 35-40 people were believed to be trapped in the rubble of the Bayram Hotel. Another report said fewer than half that number were trapped.

Hotel owner Aslan Bayram told NTV television the hotel had 27 guests, about half of whom were inside when the quake hit. But he said he did not know how many customers may have been in a shop selling desserts at the entrance of the building.

Mustafa Bilici, a ruling party lawmaker, said one person died after throwing himself out of a building in panic.

Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said the quake toppled a hotel, a school and a number of mudbrick homes. He said rescue teams are being sent to the region from the capital, Ankara, and other areas. Workers have been clearing debris from the previous disaster for more than a week.

Schools in the region are closed until Dec. 5.

The Turkish Red Crescent immediately dispatched 15,000 tents and some 300 rescue workers, TRT said. There was no damage in the town of Edremit, the quake’s epicenter.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake measured 5.7 and that its epicenter was 9 miles south of Van. It struck at 9:23 p.m.

About 1,400 aftershocks have rocked the region since the massive earthquake on Oct. 23, which killed 600 and left thousands homeless. Many residents had been living in tents, despite the cold, too afraid to return to their homes. At least 2,000 buildings were destroyed in the stronger temblor and authorities declared another 3,700 buildings unfit for living.

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