Major search and rescue efforts are underway in eastern Turkey after it was rocked by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake late Friday evening.At least 22 people have died, the country’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said Saturday, adding that 1,103 were injured.Rescue workers searched for people buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings in the Elazig province, the site of the earthquake’s epicenter, Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.He also warned that the death toll could rise.AFAD said 42 people had been pulled out from under the rubble since the earthquake, but that an estimated 22 others were still trapped in buildings in the city of Elazig.Rescue teams worked through the night as temperatures dropped below freezing with their hands, drills and mechanical diggers to remove bricks and plaster from collapsed buildings in the city which has a population of around 300,000 people. The city is around 25 miles from the quake’s epicenter.As more than 200 aftershocks rippled through the region, rescue teams, emergency workers and security forces also distributed tents, beds and blankets to people in the affected areas.
Mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories were opened for the hundreds who left their homes after the quake.AFAD also warned people not to return to damaged buildings due to continuous aftershocks.”The earthquake was very severe, we desperately ran out (of our home),” Emre Gocer told the state-run Anadolu news agency as he found shelter with his family at a sports hall in the small town of Sivrice.”We don’t have a safe place to stay right now.”The tremblor, with a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 struck around 8:55 p.m. local time (12:55 p.m. ET) on Friday in eastern Elazig province.The quake’s epicenter was near the village of Sivrice, which has a population of around 4,000, according to the United States Geological Survey.At least five buildings in the village and 25 in near-by Malatya province were destroyed, said Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum. Hundreds of other structures were damaged and made unsafe.In an effort to ease the crisis, communication companies announced free telephone and internet services for residents in the quake-hit region, while Turkish Airlines announced extra flights.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter Friday evening that all measures were being taken to “ensure that the earthquake that occurred in Elazig and was felt in many provinces is overcome with the least amount of loss.”Neighboring country Greece offered to send rescue crews should they be needed.Tremors from the quake were also felt in Syria, Lebanon and Iran.Earthquakes are common in Turkey, as it sits on top of two major fault lines. About 17,000 people died in a massive earthquake in the western city of Izmit in 1999.