ANKARA, Turkey—Cries of panic and horror filled the air as a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey, killing at least 88 people as buildings pancaked and crumpled into rubble.
Tens of thousands fled into the streets running, screaming or trying to reach relatives on cell phones as apartment and office buildings cracked or collapsed. As the full extent of the damage became clear, survivors dug in with shovels or even their bare hands, desperately trying to rescue the trapped and the injured.
"My wife and child are inside! My 4-month-old baby is inside!" CNN-Turk television showed one young man sobbing outside a collapsed building in Van, the provincial capital.
The hardest hit area was Ercis, an eastern city of 75,000 close to the Iranian border, which lies on one of Turkey's most earthquake-prone zones. The bustling city of Van, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) to the south, also sustained substantial damage. Highways in the area caved in and Van's airport was damaged, forcing flights to be diverted.
TRT television reported that 59 people were killed and 150 injured in Ercis, 25 others died in Van and four people, including a child, died in the nearby province of Bitlis. It said at least nine people were pulled out of debris alive.
Up to 80 buildings collapsed in Ercis, including a dormitory, and 10 buildings collapsed in Van, the Turkish Red Crescent said. Some highways also caved in.
Authorities advised people to stay away from any damaged homes, warning they could collapse in the aftershocks. U.S. scientists recorded over 100 aftershocks in eastern Turkey within ten hours of the quake, including one with a magnitude of 6.0.
Residents in Van and Ercis lit camp fires, preparing to spend the night outdoors while the Red Crescent began setting up tents in a stadium. Others fled to seek shelter with relatives in nearby villages.
Rescue efforts went deep into the night under generator-powered floodlights. Workers tied steel rods around large concrete slabs in Van, then lifted them with heavy machinery.
Residents sobbed outside the ruins of one flattened eight-story building, hoping that missing relatives would be found. Witnesses said eight people were pulled from the rubble, but frequent aftershocks hampered search efforts. By late evening, some joy emerged as a ninth, a teenage girl, was pulled out alive.
Around 1,275 rescue teams from 38 provinces were being sent to the region, officials said, and troops were also assisting search-and-rescue efforts.
In Ercis, heavy machinery stopped working and people were ordered to keep silent as rescuers tried to listen for possible survivors inside a seven-story building housing 28 families, NTV reported.
Some inmates escaped a prison in Van after one of its walls collapsed. TRT television said around 150 inmates had fled, but a prison official said the number was much smaller and many later returned.
Many buildings also collapsed in the district of Celebibag, near Ercis, including student dormitories, hotels and gas stations.
"There are many people under the rubble," Veysel Keser, the mayor of Celebibag, told NTV. "People are in agony, we can hear their screams for help."
Nazmi Gur, a legislator from Van, said his nephew's funeral ceremony was cut short due to the quake and he rushed back to help.
"We managed to rescue a few people, but I saw at least five bodies," Gur told The Associated Press."It was such a powerful temblor. It lasted for such a long time,"
"But now we have no electricity, there is no heating, everyone is outside in the cold," he added.
Authorities had no information yet on remote villages but the governor was touring the region by helicopter and the government sent in tents, field kitchens and blankets.
The earthquake also shook buildings in neighboring Armenia and Iran.
In the Armenian capital of Yerevan, 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Ercis, people rushed into the streets in fear but no damage or injuries were reported. Armenia was the site of a devastating earthquake in 1988 that killed 25,000 people.