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Quake Kills at Least 217 in Southeast Turkey

People try to save others trapped under debris in Tabanli village near the city of Van after a powerful earthquake struck eastern Turkey, October 23, 2011.

A powerful earthquake has struck southeastern Turkey, killing at least 217. The quake, measuring 7.2, has caused buildings to collapse in the remote and poor region and there are growing fears of of a high casualty toll. A major rescue operation is under way in the area.

In the desperate search for survivors, using shovels and even their bare hands, people work through the rubble of one of numerous collapsed buildings. In the town of Ercis close to the epicenter of the quake, 25 apartment blocks have reportedly collapsed, including a student dormitory.

Watch: Video from the aftermath of the Turkish earthquake

My wife and four month old baby are inside, this man said. as he watches people digging through the rubble of his home. But there is already growing anger.

Look they choose money over people's lives, this apartment building should never have collapsed, this man said.

Watch: A video of the quake as it happened

Observers say Turkey has a chronic problem of poorly constructed buildings, in particular state built structures that frequently fail when earthquakes strike. Sunday's quake measured 7.2 and struck very close to the surface, magnifying its power.

Location of the earthquake according to the USGS:

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Southeastern Turkey is one of the most remote and poorest regions in the country. There is growing concern for the fate of numerous small towns and villages from which there has been little news due to the telephone system failing.

Emergency teams have reached some of the main cities and towns, and several ministers have visited the region.

Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay visited the town of Ercis, which was badly damaged by the quake. He promised everything would be done to help.

A plane carrying 160 people for rescuing and assistance has been sent, two other military planes have also been dispatched. He said the government is doing everything it can to assist.

The country's main earthquake research center, Kandili, in Istanbul estimated such a quake could claim between 500 and 1,000 lives.

Turkey is no stranger to quakes in a seismically active region. In 1999 the Istanbul area was hit by a powerful quake killing more than 20,000 people.