Turkish authorities have raised the death toll from a powerful earthquake to 31 people, and the president told people to ignore any “propaganda” claiming that the country was not prepared for such an event.
Rescue crews early on January 26 continued to search for people who remained trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, as authorities said that 1,243 people were injured in the January 24 temblor that measured 6.5 to 6.8 on the Richter scale near the town of Sivrice in Elazig Province.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said in a televised news conference that 18 people were killed in Elazig Province and four in neighboring Malatya. The national disaster agency later raised the death toll.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 34 of the injured were in intensive care but not in critical condition.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on January 25 attended the funeral of a mother and son killed in one of the hard-hit areas of the quake.
He warned people against repeating “negative” remarks suggesting that the country was unprepared for earthquakes.
“Do not listen to rumors, do not listen to anyone’s negative, contrary propaganda, and know that we are your servants,” Erdogan said.
The comments came after a prosecutor in the capital, Ankara, announced an investigation into “provocative” social-media posts. The Anadolu news agency reported that Turkey’s broadcasting authority was also reviewing media coverage of the quake.
Amid reports of thousands of people in the region being forced to live outside their ruined homes, Erdogan said, “We will not leave anyone in the open.”
Injuries were reported among residents in other southeast provinces, including Diyarbakir and Sanliurfa.
One resident, Suat, 45, accused officials of lying, saying the government claims that “only four people are trapped under the rubble. It is not true. I have five relatives in that building."
"There are four floors and three flats per floor. If there were five people per flat, do the math. Why are they lying?"
While visiting Sivrice -- a town of about 4,000 people -- and the city of Elazig, some 565 kilometers east of Ankara, the Turkish leader promised state support for those affected by the disaster.
Sivrice is situated on the shores of Hazar Lake, a popular tourist spot and the source of the Tigris River.
The Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said the main quake was followed by 398 aftershocks, the strongest of which had magnitudes of 5.4 and 5.1.
A UN spokesman said that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “deeply saddened by the loss of life and destruction of property in the wake of an earthquake in Elazig Province, Turkey.”
Meanwhile, Greece -- Turkey’s bitter historic rival -- offered to send rescue crews to assist the Turkish teams.
However, Erdogan appeared to reject offers of outside assistance, telling reporters, “Our state does not need anything.”
Turkey sits on top of two major fault lines and earthquakes are frequent. Elazig was hit by a magnitude 6.0 earthquake in 2010, killing 51 people.