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Turkey earthquake kills 51; survivors left out in cold

OKCULAR, Turkey - Hundreds of earthquake survivors huddled in aid tents and around bonfires yesterday in eastern Turkey, seeking relief from the winter cold after a strong temblor knocked down stone and mud-brick houses in five villages, killing 51 people.

The damage appeared worst in the Kurdish village of Okcular, which was almost razed. At least 15 of the village's 900 residents were killed, the Elazig governor's office said, and the air was thick with dust from crumpled homes and barns.

The pre-dawn earthquake caught many residents as they slept, shaking the area's poorly made buildings into piles of rubble.

Panicked survivors fled into the narrow streets of this village perched on a hill in front of snow-covered mountains, with some people climbing out of windows to escape.

"I tried to get out of the door but it wouldn't open. I came out of the window and started helping my neighbors," Ali Riza Ferhat of Okcular told NTV television. "We removed six bodies."

The Kandilli seismology center said the 6.0-magnitude quake hit at 4:32 a.m. near the village of Basyurt in a remote, sparsely populated area of Elazig province. The region is 340 miles east of Ankara, the capital.

The U.S. Geol ogical Survey listed the quake at 5.9 magnitude.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kandilli Observatory's director, Mustafa Erdik, urged residents not to enter any damaged homes, warning they could topple from aftershocks that Erdik said could last for days. More than 100 aftershocks measuring up to 5.5 magnitude shook the region yesterday alone.

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

Abdulkerim Sekerdag, 72, said he had just risen for early morning prayers when the quake hit.

"The jolt threw me onto the ground," he said. "When I got up I checked my animals and then I checked on my neighbors. Two of them were buried. We pulled them out," he said, adding that they were alive but injured.

Women in veils gathered near the rescue scenes, some crying.

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

The Turkish Red Crescent set up tents and villagers laid plastic sheeting to shelter them from the cold and dirt. The government said it rushed ambulance helicopters, prefabricated homes and mobile kitchens into the stricken area.

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

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