ERCIS, Turkey – Rescuers frantically searched for survivors amid mounds of concrete, twisted steel and construction debris Monday, a day after a 7.2-magnitude quake leveled buildings and killed at least 279 people in eastern Turkey.
The search for survivors had continued through the night, with some successes, but officials acknowledged they were powerless to prevent a steep rise in the death toll after Sunday afternoon's earthquake -- the biggest to rock the country in more than a decade.
The prime minister's emergency agency, AFAD, said at least 279 people had been confirmed dead and a further 1,300 were injured across the region. Thousands more were left homeless amid bitter winter temperatures.
The quake damaged at least 2,262 buildings, with Van city and the Ercis district the worst affected, AFAD said.
Over 3,000 rescue personnel were assisting the region's search and rescue efforts with the help of medical teams, search dogs and military aircraft to shuttle supplies to the affected regions. But widespread power outages were hampering their response.
Dozens of people were still trapped in the rubble, while dozens more were placed in body bags or covered by blankets and laid down in rows so people could search for their missing relatives.
"It's my grandson's wife. She was stuck underneath rubble," Mehmet Emin Umac told the Associated Press.
Grieving families cried outside the Ercis mosque.
"My nephew, his wife and their child, all three dead. May God protect us from this kind of grief," resident Kursat Lap told The Associated Press. "They all came here for a Sunday breakfast and then what happened, happened."
Several other men carried a child's body wrapped in a white cloth as weeping family members followed behind.
Earlier Monday, four people were pulled alive from the rubble when one managed to call for help on his cell phone.
Yalcin Akay was dug out from a collapsed six-story building with a leg injury after he called a police emergency line on his phone and described his location, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. Three others, including two children, were also rescued from the same building in Ercis some 20 hours after the quake struck, officials said.
Two other survivors were trapped for over 27 hours.
Abdurrahman Antakyali, 20, was brought out of a crumbled Internet cafe after an eight-hour long joint rescue effort by Turkish and Azerbaijani teams. His father and brother wept with joy as he emerged, Anatolia reported.
Tugba Altinkaynak, 21, had been at a family lunch with 12 other relatives when the temblor hit. She was rescued but there was no immediate word on the fate of her relatives.
More than 2,000 teams with a dozen sniffer dogs were involved in search-and-rescue and aid efforts, and more often than not they found dead bodies, not survivors. Cranes and other heavy equipment lifted slabs of concrete, allowing residents to dig for the missing with shovels.
Those efforts were hampered by over 200 aftershocks that rocked the area, with one on Monday rising up to 5.0 magnitude.
Aid groups scrambled to set up tents, field hospitals and kitchens to help the thousands left homeless or too afraid to re-enter their homes. Many exhausted residents spent the night outside, lighting fires to keep warm.
"We stayed outdoors all night, I could not sleep at all, my children, especially the little one, was terrified," said Serpil Bilici of her six-year-old daughter, Rabia. "I grabbed her and rushed out when the quake hit, we were all screaming."
The bustling, larger city of Van, about 55 miles south of Ercis, also sustained substantial damage, but Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said search efforts there were winding down.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the quake left 279 dead and some 1,300 injured. Other officials said 10 victims were students learning about the Quran at a religious school that collapsed. Arinc said search-and-rescue efforts could end as early as Tuesday.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who inspected the area late Sunday, said "close to all" the mud-brick homes in surrounding villages had collapsed in the temblor that also rattled parts of Iran and Armenia.
The terrifying moments of the powerful temblor still haunted many.
Abubekir Acar, 42, was sipping tea with friends as the quake leveled a nearby coffee house.
"We did not understand what was going on, the buildings around us, the coffee house all went down so quickly," he said. "For a while, we could not see anything -- everywhere was covered in dust. Then, we heard screams and pulled out anyone we could reach."
Leaders around the world, including President Barack Obama, conveyed their condolences and offered assistance, but Erdogan said Turkey was able to cope for now. Azerbaijan, Iran and Bulgaria still sent aid, he said.
Among those offering help were Israel, Greece and Armenia, who all have had issues in their relations with Turkey.
The offer from Israel came despite a rift in relations following a 2010 Israeli navy raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turks dead. Greece, which has a deep dispute with Turkey over the divided island of Cyprus, also offered to send a special earthquake rescue team.
Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic ties due to tensions over the Ottoman-era mass killings of Armenians and the conflict in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkey lies in one of the world's most active seismic zones and is crossed by numerous fault lines. In 1999, two earthquakes with a magnitude of more than 7 struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people.
Istanbul, the country's largest city with more than 12 million people, lies in northwestern Turkey near a major fault line, and experts say tens of thousands could be killed if a major quake struck there.
The Associated Press and Newscore contributed to this report.