ISTANBUL, Turkey – A powerful earthquake toppled scores of buildings in central Turkey on Sunday, killing at least 35 people, injuring more than 100 and sending terrified residents running from their homes.
Rescue workers were trying to retrieve the bodies of a few people trapped under collapsed buildings.
But authorities did not expect the death toll to climb dramatically from the magnitude-6 temblor, which was about one-tenth as powerful as two massive earthquakes that killed 18,000 people in the nation's west in 1999.
"Because today is Sunday and shops are closed, a huge disaster was avoided," said Public Works Minister Abdulkadir Akcan. Turkey lies atop the North Anatolian fault, and the nation constantly fears another devastating earthquake.
Nearly six hours after the quake, the Interior Ministry said at least 35 people had been killed and that some 80 buildings in the stricken area had collapsed. The most seriously damaged buildings were shops and public offices.
Rescue workers in the worst-hit town, Sultandagi, were digging with hands and shovels to pull out the bodies of a couple believed to be trapped under the debris of a three-story building that fell down.
"There is no sign of life," Mehmet Aslan, a rescue worker, said at the site after a sniffer dog went through the area. Sultandagi is located some 20 miles south of Bolvadin, the town at the quake's epicenter.
The quake caused 15 buildings and the minarets of four mosques to collapse in Bolvadin, about a three-hour drive from Ankara, the nation's capital.
Several brick houses in five nearby towns and villages were also destroyed, state television TRT reported. Twenty-six people were reportedly injured after jumping from windows and balconies in the area.
In villages in the area, the carcasses of animals lay amid the stones of collapsed barns and one-story homes, while fires blazed in a few houses.
The government — accused in the past of reacting too slowly to natural disasters — immediately sent 3,000 blankets and 1,000 tents to the region, and troops set up tent cities to house the homeless, private NTV television reported. Forecasters said temperature would likely drop below freezing overnight.
Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit went on national television to warn residents to stay away from damaged homes. He then set off for the region.
Authorities in Bolvadin broadcast warnings over loudspeakers, urging residents to stay out of damaged buildings. At a hospital, doctors, expecting aftershocks, rushed patients into the garden.
Families tried desperately to contact relatives, jamming telephone service in the province of Afyon.
The quake was also felt in the central provinces of Ankara, Burdur, Isparta, Eskisehir, Kocaeli and Sakarya.
Ahmet Mete Isikara, head of the Istanbul-based seismological Kandilli Observatory, said at least eight aftershocks quickly followed the temblor. The strongest had a magnitude of 5.3.
Greece, which often has tense relations with Turkey, offered to send rescue workers, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said. During the major 1999 quakes, Greece also sent help, improving ties between the nations.
"We express our solidarity toward the troubled people and government of Turkey, who have again been struck hard by another earthquake," said Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou. "We express are our deepest condolences to the families of those lost."
The quake was felt on eastern Greek islands near Turkey's coast but cause no reported damage of injury.