Powerful earthquake shakes central Turkey, toppling buildings and killing dozens

Sunday, February 3rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOLVADIN, Turkey (AP) _ 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.

The magnitude-6 temblor, about one-tenth as powerful as two massive earthquakes that killed 18,000 people in the nation's west in 1999, sent panicked residents into the streets near its epicenter by Bolvadin, a town of 40,000 about 200 miles southeast of Istanbul.

``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 that at least 35 people had been killed and that scores of buildings in the stricken area had collapsed. The most seriously damaged buildings were shops and public offices.

Worst hit Sunday was the village of Sultandagi, where at least 15 people died. In the neighboring village of Cay, 11 people were crushed to death. One person died in Bolvadin in a collapsed house and another person died of a heart attack in the neighboring city of Konya, where seven people were injured from jumping from windows and balconies, state television reported.

Eight people were still buried under the debris of a collapsed house in Sultandagi, 7 miles south of Bolvadin, said Hayrettin Barut, mayor of the provincial capital of Afyon.

The quake caused 15 buildings and the minarets of several mosques to collapse in Bolvadin, located about a three-hour drive from Ankara, the nation's capital.

Several brick houses in five nearby villages were also destroyed, state television TRT reported.

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 appeared on national television to warn residents to stay away from damaged homes and 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.