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Turkish president visits quake scene and denies nation was unprepared

By Andrew Wilks, Associated Press

The death toll from a strong earthquake that rocked eastern Turkey has climbed to 29 as rescue crews continue the search for people trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Interior minister Suleyman Soylu said earlier on Saturday that 18 people were killed in Elazig province, where Friday night’s quake was centred, and four in neighbouring Malatya.

The national disaster agency later updated the total with seven more casualties.

Another 1,243 people were injured, and 34 of them are in intensive care but not in critical condition.

An injured man found in the rubble of a building destroyed in the quake in Elazig is carried to safety by rescue workers (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

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.

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

Various earthquake monitoring centres gave magnitudes ranging from 6.5 to 6.8 for the earthquake, which hit on Friday at 8.55pm local time near the Elazig province town of Sivrice.

The Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said it was followed by 398 aftershocks, the strongest of them having magnitudes of 5.4 and 5.1.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, centre, visits the scene in Elazig (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

Emergency workers and security forces have distributed tents, beds and blankets as overnight temperatures drop below freezing in the affected areas. Mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories have been opened for hundreds who left their homes after the quake.

While visiting Sivrice, Mr Erdogan promised state support for those affected by the disaster.

“We will not leave anyone in the open,” he said.

At least five buildings in Sivrice and 25 in Malatya province were destroyed in the quake, while hundreds of other structures were damaged and made unsafe.

AFAD said 42 people have been rescued as search teams comb the debris.

Rescuers search for survivors in the rubble (AP)

Television footage showed emergency workers removing a woman from the wreckage of a collapsed building 19 hours after the main earthquake struck.

AFAD said 28 rescue teams had been working around the clock. More than 2,600 personnel from 39 of Turkey’s 81 provinces were sent to the disaster site, while unmanned drones were used to survey damaged neighbourhoods and co-ordinate rescue efforts.

Neighbouring Greece, which is at odds with Turkey over maritime boundaries and gas exploration rights, offered to send rescue crews to assist.

But Mr Erdogan appeared to reject the offer of outside assistance during his visit to the city of Elazig, telling reporters: “Our state does not need anything.”

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

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake killed 51 people in Elazig in 2010.