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Turkey Quake Toll Expected to Climb

People walk around a destroyed house in Karakocan province of southeastern city Elazig, 08 Mar 2010

Powerful earthquake hit Elazig province before dawn killing more than 50 people and injuring scores

Turkey's southeastern region has been struck by a powerful earthquake. According to officials, at least 57 have been killed and scores injured. The 6.0 magnitude quake struck a mainly rural part of the country.

Local people assisted by soldiers frantically dig through the rubble of what was once a home, looking for survivors.

The earthquake occurred before dawn, which meant most people were asleep in their homes. The quake's epicenter was in southeast Turkey, one of the poorest parts of the country, with small villages constructed mostly with buildings made of mud bricks.

There are reports that one of the area's largest villages, Okcular, has been completely destroyed. Rescuers say more than dozen bodies have been recovered there.

Rescue efforts are being hampered by continuing aftershocks. The number of dead is expected to rise throughout the day as rescuers continue to dig through the rubble of the collapsed houses.

Experts say the quake was more destructive because it struck near the earth's surface. With the region heavily militarized due to an ongoing conflict with Kurdish rebels, soldiers were quickly on the scene to assist.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised as much support as needed.

He said ambulance helicopters have been sent to the region and the Turkish Red Crescent will be sending first-aid, 230 tents and 1,000 blankets, along with 20 prefabricated houses. The prime minister also said doctors are being sent, and ministers are visiting the region.

The region is in the grip of cold weather with sub-zero temperatures, not unusual at this time of the year.

Thousands of people are expected to be made homeless by the quake. There is widespread concern in Turkey about the quality of housing and its ability to withstand earthquakes.

In 1999 a powerful quake hit just east of Turkey's largest city, Istanbul, killing at least 17,000 people. Many of those deaths were blamed on poor quality housing.