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Rescue workers and residents remove rubble from a destroyed house in Karakocan, Turkey, after a major earthquake Monday. ((Omer Fansa/Anatolian News Agency/Reuters))

A 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey early Monday, killing at least 51 people.

The quake rumbled through five villages in Elazig province, about 550 kilometres east of the capital Ankara, reducing stone and mud-brick homes to rubble.

Local officials had put the death toll as high as 57 Monday morning, but later lowered the confirmed death toll to 51. The toll is expected to rise as rescue workers search for survivors in the ruined buildings.

In addition to the deaths, 34 people were treated for injuries,Turkey's crisis centre said.

The quake hit at 4:32 a.m. local time while many people were sleeping. Panicked survivors fled into narrow village streets, some climbing out of windows, as more than 100 aftershocks measuring up to 5.5 magnitude rattled the region.

In the worst-damaged village of Okcular, authorities blocked access to allow emergency vehicles to move through the narrow roads.

"The village is totally flattened," Okcular's administrator Hasan Demirdag told private NTV television.

"Everything has been knocked down, there is not a stone in place," said Yadin Apaydin, administrator for the village of Yukari Kanatli, where he said at least three villagers died.

The quake was also felt in the neighbouring provinces of Tunceli, Bingol and Diyarbakir.

Quake-proof homes promised

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged people to stay out of damaged homes because of concerns that aftershocks might cause more buildings to collapse.

Erdogan blamed the region's mud-brick buildings for the many deaths and said the government housing agency will build quake-proof homes in the area.

He said ambulance helicopters, prefabricated homes and mobile kitchens were being rushed in, and Turkey's Red Crescent aid group sent tents and blankets.

Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, much of which lies over the North Anatolian fault. In 1999, two powerful earthquakes struck northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people.

In 2007, an earthquake of magnitude 5.7 damaged buildings in Elazig, briefly trapping a woman under debris.

In 2003, an earthquake of magnitude 6.4 collapsed a school dormitory in the neighbouring province of Bingol, killing 83 children. The collapse was blamed on poor construction.

With files from The Associated Press