Rescuers hunt for survivors in fresh Turkey earthquake

Not clear how many people remain trapped under rubble

ANKARA - Hundreds of rescuers hunted for survivors Thursday after an earthquake in eastern Turkey killed seven people, toppled buildings and sowed panic less than three weeks after a massive deadly quake in the same area.
More than 800 rescue personnel rushed to the area overnight, with mechanical diggers clawed through rubble after the 5.6 magnitude quake struck near the city of Van, sending two hotels crashing down along with two dozen other buildings.
At least 25 people were pulled out alive, including two members of a Japanese humanitarian association who had come to the area to help after a 7.2 magnitude quake struck on October 23, killing more than 600 people and injuring more than 4,150.
The government disaster management agency put the death toll of the fresh quake at seven, but it was not clear how many people remained trapped under the rubble.
"When I came out there was nothing but a cloud of smoke everywhere," said Recep Ozhan, a receptionist at one of the two collapsed hotels, one of them a six-storey building in Van city centre that housed mostly journalists and teams from the Turkish Red Crescent.
"There were 32 clients registered at the hotel yesterday, but I don't know how many were inside the building... I don't know if anyone was able to get out besides me," he said.
Turkish authorities, heavily criticised at home for a sluggish response to the October quake, said they rushed nine planes carrying almost 300 rescuers to the region overnight along with 50 ambulances and 250 medical personnel.
As rescuers picked through the rubble on the ground, 23 planes and eight medical helicopters were ferrying materiel and personnel to and from the area, where snow is forecast Friday.
Of the 25 buildings that collapsed, 22 were left empty when people fled after the October quake, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said from the scene Wednesday.
"Search and rescue operations are continuing in three buildings," he added.
Wednesday's quake occurred at 1923 GMT, with the epicentre in the Edremit district, some 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Van province, according to the Istanbul-based Kandilli Observatory. The USGS put the magnitude at 5.6, after having earlier put it at 5.7.
The US Geological Survey said the epicentre was 16 kilometres (10 miles) south of Van, with its depth given as five kilometres (three miles).
Experts told Turkish television stations that a moderate quake of 5.6 magnitude would not normal cause major damage but said that the buildings that collapsed had been weakened by the October disaster.
In the October quake, Turkey accepted help from dozens of countries, including Israel and Armenia, both states with which it has frosty relations.
That tremor destroyed many homes in Van province near Iran, including more than 5,000 in the regional capital of Van, provoking claims that building standards had been flouted.
Many survivors were forced to camp out in tents or makeshift shelters, fearing further building collapses with rain and snow adding to their misery.
Turkey is earthquake-prone due to being crossed by several fault lines.
In 1999, two strong quakes in the heavily-populated and industrialised regions of northwest Turkey left some 20,000 people dead.