The 7.3 magnitude earthquake that struck eastern Turkey has claimed the lives of at least 70 people, according to official sources, while hundreds more have been injured.
Turkey’s Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute Research estimate between 500 and 1000 people dead.
The powerful quake cut electricity supplies and phone lines. Rescuers powered their equipment with generators while they searched for signs of life under collapsed buildings in the city of Van.
Civilians joined the search, using their bare hands to clear the debris.
In the dark of night and bitter cold the situation appeared chaotic with too few officials on hand to manage as aftershocks continued to rock the city.
Dozens of buildings collapsed in Van and dozens more in the nearby district of Ercis.
The earthquake is among the strongest in Turkish history and the worst since 1999, when more than 20,000 people were killed in northwest part of the country.
Sunday’s earthquake struck Van, which is on the border with Iran, at 1041 GMT and was five miles deep.
Turkey is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes because it sits on major geological fault lines.
A Turkish foreign ministry official said later that Turkey had received offers of help from dozens of countries after the magnitude 7.2 quake, and had so far declined assistance from all of them, including Israel.