Rescue workers continue to search for survivors as deaths rise following the Aegean earthquake

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Rescue workers removed a 70-year-old man from a collapsed building in western Turkey on Sunday approx. 34 hours after a strong earthquake in the Aegean Sea hit Turkey and Greece, killing at least 53 people and injuring more than 900.

It was the latest in a series of notable rescues after the earthquake on Friday afternoon, which was centered in the Aegean Sea northeast of the Greek island of Samos. Search and rescue teams were working in nine buildings Sunday in the Turkish city of Izmir as the day went on.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay raised the death toll in Izmir, the country’s third-largest city, to 51 as rescuers pulled several bodies out of toppled buildings. Two teenagers were killed Friday on Samos and at least 19 others were injured.

There was some debate about the magnitude of the earthquake. The U.S. Geological Survey put it at 7.0, while Istanbul’s Kandilli Institute put it at 6.9, and Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said it measured 6.6.

The quake triggered a small tsunami in the Seferihisar district of Izmir, drowning an elderly woman and on Samos. The quakes were felt across western Turkey, including in Istanbul as well as in the Greek capital Athens. Hundreds of aftershocks followed.

Turkey’s disaster agency said nearly 900 people were injured in Turkey alone.

Ahmet Citim, 70, was pulled out of the rubble shortly after midnight Sunday and was admitted to hospital. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted that he said, “I never lost my hope.”

Unclear how many are still buried

Turkey has a mix of older buildings and easily regulated cheap new construction, which can lead to serious injuries and deaths when earthquakes strike. The vice president said 26 badly damaged buildings would be demolished.

“It is not the earthquake that is killing, but buildings,” Oktay said, repeating a common slogan.

AFAD said more than 5,700 workers had been activated for rescue work and hundreds of others for food distribution, relief and building control.

It was unclear how many more were left under the rubble. Turkish media reported that three more people were pulled out of a collapsed apartment building on Sunday, but their circumstances were not known.

Dogs, cats and rabbits have also been rescued from the rubbish.

Turkey is crossed by fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. In 1999, two powerful earthquakes killed about 18,000 people in northwestern Turkey. Earthquakes are also frequent in Greece.

In a rare show of unity in the middle of months of tense bilateral relations, Greek and Turkish government officials issued reciprocal messages of solidarity over the earthquake duty.

The earthquake occurred when Turkey was already struggling with an economic downturn and the coronavirus pandemic. So far, more than 10,000 people with the virus have died in Turkey, and some experts have accused the government of hiding the real impact of the virus by the way it counts cases.

(AP)