ISTANBUL - A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 hit eastern Turkey on Friday, killing at least 14 people, causing buildings to collapse and sending panicked residents rushing into the street.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said all steps were being taken to aid people at the scene of the quake, which had its epicenter in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in the eastern province of Elazig.
"We stand by our people," Erdogan said on Twitter, in his first comments about the quake, which caused widespread fear.
"It was very scary, furniture fell on top of us. We rushed outside," 47-year-old Melahat Can, who lives in the provincial capital of Elazig, told AFP.
"We will spend the coming days in a farmhouse outside the city," she said.
The Turkish government's disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said the quake hit Sivrice at around 8:55 pm (1755 GMT).
The agency said the quake killed eight people in Elazig province and six others in the neighboring province of Malatya, which lies to the southwest.
The U.S. Geological Survey assessed its magnitude at 6.7, and said it had a depth of 10 kilometers (about six miles).
Turkish television showed images of people stuck in apartments rushing outside in panic, as well as a fire on the roof of one building.
Footage also showed rescue teams searching for survivors trapped in a collapsed building in a village some 30 kilometers from Elazig, and two people were pulled alive from the rubble.
Turkey lies on major faultlines and is prone to frequent earthquakes.
AFAD said 60 aftershocks were recorded after Friday's quake, adding that more than 400 rescue teams were directed toward the region.
Turkey's leading communications companies announced they would provide residents in the quake region with internet and that phone calls would be free of charge. And the country's flag carrier Turkish Airlines put additional flights for Elazig.
Erdogan said all necessary measures were taken to keep losses at a minimum and ensure people's safety as he sent his environment, interior and health ministers to the region.
'Everybody is in the street'
"Sivrice was shaken very seriously, we have directed our rescue teams to the region," Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters before he was due to travel to the quake zone.
Sivrice — a town with a population of about 4,000 people — is situated south of Elazig city on the shores of Hazar lake — one of the most popular tourist spots in the region and the source of the Tigris river.
The lake is home to a "Sunken City," with archaeologists finding archaeological traces dating back 4,000 years in its waters.
The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders, the Turkish broadcaster NTV reported, adding that neighboring cities had mobilized rescue teams for the quake area.
"We have sent four teams to the quake region," Recep Salci of Turkey's Search and Rescue Association (AKUT) told AFP.
"We have news of collapsed buildings, and are preparing more teams in case of need."
Zekeriya Gunes, 68, a resident of Elazig city, said a building 200 meters down on his street had collapsed but he did not know whether it was inhabited.
"Everybody is in the street, it was very powerful, very scary," he said.
Ferda, 39, said she felt worried and desperate.
"It lasted quite long, maybe 30 seconds," she told AFP. "I panicked and was undecided whether to go out in this cold or remain inside."
The USGS said the quake struck near the East Anatolian Fault in an area that has no documented large rupture since an earthquake in 1875.
'Under control for now'
In 1999, a devastating 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit Izmit in western Turkey, leaving more than 17,000 people dead, including about 1,000 in the country's largest city Istanbul.
"My wholehearted sympathy to President @RTErdogan and the Turkish people following the devastating earthquake that has hit Turkey. Our search and rescue teams stand ready to assist," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote on Twitter.
In Athens, the Greek premier's office said later that Mitsotakis had spoken by phone to Erdogan.
"The Turkish president ... said Turkish teams had the situation under control for now and that it would be re-evaluated in the morning," his office added.
In September last year, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Istanbul, causing residents to flee buildings in the economic capital.
Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate the city of 15 million people, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.