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Erdogan warns of 'propaganda' as Turkey earthquake death toll rises

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Rescue workers work to save people trapped under debris in Elazig, eastern Turkey, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020.
Rescue workers work to save people trapped under debris in Elazig, eastern Turkey, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020.   -  
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Ismail Coskun/IHA via AP - Ismail Coskun
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Turkish rescue teams are searching for the last two missing people believed to be trapped beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings Monday, days after a powerful magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit the country's east.

The death toll that rocked eastern Turkey climbed to at least 40 people on Monday morning, officials said.

Speaking at a televised news conference, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Sunday that 18 people were killed in Elazig province, where Friday night's quake was centered, and four in neighboring Malatya. The national disaster agency later updated the total with nine more casualties.

Some 1,600 people were injured. At least 45 survivors were pulled out of the rubble alive.

On Saturday afternoon, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the hardest-hit areas and attended the funeral of a mother and son killed in the quake. He warned people against repeating “negative” hearsay about the country being unprepared for earthquakes.

“Do not listen to rumors, do not listen to anyone’s negative, contrary propaganda, and know that we are your servants,” Erdogan said.

TV footage showed rescuers pull out one injured person from the rubble of a collapsed building in the district of Gezin, in the eastern Elazig province.

Some 76 buildings had collapsed from the quake and more than 1,000 damaged in the two provinces, according to Murat Kurum, the environment minister.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter 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."

As the President of Turkey, I want you to know that we work closely. We stand by our nation with all our institutions and organizations, especially AFAD and Kızılay (Turkish Red Crescent).

The quake struck at 8:55 p.m. local time, at a depth of 6.7 kilometres near the town of Sivrice in Elazig, the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD, said. It was followed by several aftershocks, the strongest with magnitudes 5.4 and 5.1.

Elazig is some 750 kilometres east of the capital, Ankara.

People in Elazig whose homes were damaged or were too afraid to go indoors were being moved to student dormitories or sports centre amid freezing conditions.

Elazig Governor Cetin Oktay Kaldirim told NTV television that a fire broke out in a building in Sivrice, near the epicentre, but was quickly brought under control.

Interior Minister Soylu was at a meeting on earthquake preparedness when the quake struck.

The Kandilli seismology centre in Istanbul said the quake measured 6.5., while the U.S. Geological Survey gave the preliminary magnitude as 6.7, and said the quake affected not only Turkey but also Syria, Georgia and Armenia.

Different earthquake monitoring centres frequently give differing estimates.

NTV said the earthquake was felt in several Turkish provinces and sent people running outdoors in panic.

Turkey sits on top of two major fault-lines and earthquakes are frequent. Two strong earthquakes struck northwest Turkey in 1999, killing around 18,000 people.

A magnitude 6 earthquake killed 51 people in Elazig in 2010.

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