Rescuers work on searching for people buried under the rubble on a collapsed building, after an earthquake struck Elazig, eastern Turkey, on Saturday. AP
The death toll from a powerful earthquake which struck eastern Turkey rose to 31, officials said Sunday, as rescue efforts continued.
The magnitude 6.8 quake hit on Friday evening, with its epicentre in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in Elazig province but also affected neighbouring cities and countries.
The Turkish government's disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said 31 people died, the majority in Elazig but at least four in nearby Malatya, and 1,607 were injured.
Rescuers scrambled all of Saturday and searched Sunday to rescue people alive from under the rubble. The latest number of individuals rescued was 45, according to AFAD.
Nearly 80 buildings collapsed while 645 were heavily damaged in Elazig and Malatya, the agency said in a statement.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised Saturday that Turkey's housing agency TOKI would "do whatever is necessary and make sure no one is left without a home".
He attended the funeral of a woman and her son in Elazig Saturday, later visiting Malatya after cancelling a speech in Istanbul.
Health Minster Fahrettin Koca said 128 injured people were receiving treatment and that 34 of those were in intensive care, but not in critical condition.
A 'TEST' FOR TURKEY
President Tayyip Erdogan cancelled his plans in Istanbul on Saturday and travelled to Elazig and Malatya to inspect rescue efforts. He also attended a funeral for a woman and her son killed in the quake, which he described as a "test" for Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, visits Elazig, eastern Turkey, site of Friday's earthquake, on Saturday. AP
"We are doing everything we can as the state and nation, and we will continue to do so. Our efforts at all rescue sites will continue," he said at the funeral, adding state house developer TOKI would make sure no one was left "hungry or in the open."
Nearly 2,000 search and rescue personnel were sent to the region while thousands of beds, blankets and tents have been provided, the Turkish presidency said.
Rescue workers scan the rubble of a collapsed building after the earthquake. Sertac Kayar/Reuters
State broadcaster TRT showed footage of dozens of workers in the dawn light using shovels to dig out a partly collapsed building in Elazig. Windows were smashed and balconies from at least four storeys had crashed to the ground.
Teams worked through the night with their hands, drills and mechanical diggers to remove bricks and plaster from the ruins in the city where the overnight temperature dipped to -8 degrees Celsius.
"Our houses collapsed ... we cannot go inside them," said a 32-year-old man from the town of Sivrice, epicentre of the quake which struck shortly before 9 p.m. (1800 GMT).
On Friday night, Interior Minister Soylu described the quake as a "Level 3" incident according to the country's emergency response plan, meaning it called for a national response but did not require international help.
LESSONS FROM THE PAST
Turkey had learnt lessons from previous disasters that helped it address Friday's incident, he said.
Drones were deployed in search operations and to communicate between provinces.
Emergency teams and rescue equipment were sent from other provinces to Elazig, with thousands of rescuers and medical personnel on the ground to look for and help survivors.
Several municipalities sent supplies and officials to help in the aid effort. Turkish Airlines put on additional flights to Elazig from Ankara and Istanbul to help transport rescuers.
Turkish officials and police work at the scene of a collapsed building following a earthquake in Elazig, Turkey. AFP
AFAD warned residents not to return to damaged buildings because of the danger of further aftershocks. It said beds, blankets and tents were being sent to the area where some people sheltered in sports gymnasiums.
"I wish God's mercy to our brothers who lost their lives in the earthquake, and urgent healing for those who were injured," President Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter.
Turkey has a history of powerful earthquakes. More than 17,000 people were killed in August 1999 when a 7.6 magnitude quake struck the western city of Limit, 90 km (55 miles) southeast of Istanbul. About 500,000 people were made homeless.
In 2011 an earthquake struck the eastern city of Van and the town of Ercis, some 100 km (60 miles) to the north, killing at least 523 people.
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Earthquakes are common in the southwestern province of Sichuan, especially in its mountains in the west, a tectonically active area along the eastern boundary of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau.
The region is part of an area devastated by a deadly 9.0 quake and tsunami 11 years ago that caused nuclear reactor meltdowns, spewing massive radiation that still makes some parts uninhabitable.
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Of those hurt in the accident, 138 sustained minor injuries and a further 24 were still in hospital, the health ministry said. The blast blew out the windows of several houses in the surrounding area and damaged their interiors.