02:27 - Source: CNN
Death toll rising in Turkey

Story highlights

NEW: The death toll has risen to 279, Anatolian news agency reports

NEW: 970 buildings were destroyed, government officials say

Authorities hope to restore power to the quake-hit areas by Monday night

More than 2,000 emergency personnel are on the ground

Find out how you can help those devastated by the earthquake in Turkey; visit our Impact Your World page at CNN.com/IMPACT.

(CNN) —  

Battling near-freezing temperatures and darkness, rescue workers and residents in eastern Turkey early Monday scoured the wreckage wrought by the country’s most-powerful earthquake in more than a decade, hoping to find survivors.

The death toll has risen to 279, with another 1,300 injured, Turkey’s semi-official Anatolian news agency reported, citing the country’s disaster management authority. Some 970 buildings are demolished.

There have been conflicting reports about the number of dead, however. Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said Monday that as many as 264 people were dead, while Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay put the death toll at 239.

It was difficult to tally the number of injured, Health Minister Recep Akdag said, because many were being treated and released.

They used flashlights, shovels, heavy machinery and their hands to lift the debris, and climbed over collapsed buildings in search of victims.

Roughly 20 aftershocks rattled eastern Turkey in one of the nation’s poorest areas. The largest had a magnitude of 6.0.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters the death toll is likely to climb, as rescue teams work through the night to save people still trapped in the rubble.

A health services building also collapsed, along with part of a hospital, CNN sister network CNN Turk reported. The injured were being treated in the hospital’s garden.

“People are really scared,” said CNN Turk reporter Nevsin Mengu. “The survivors are now trying to survive the cold weather.”

Rescuers and survivors contended with near-freezing temperatures. Some people collected wood from collapsed buildings to burn for warmth, Mengu said.

She said many residents are not returning to their houses, opting instead to sleep on rooftops or in the streets. It was not clear whether their homes were uninhabitable or if they were just too frightened.

Speaking from Van, Mengu said the death toll is almost sure to rise, as rescue teams have not yet reached some of the smaller villages. Trucks carrying medical aid and food were seen driving into Van.

One man, stuck in the fetal position under a large piece of debris, was visible only through a small hole in the rubble. The man appeared weak and exhausted after rescuers pulled him out, his clothes torn.

Turkey map of quake zone
Turkey map of quake zone

At one point, rescue workers halted operations to try to hear whether anyone was knocking for help.

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The Red Crescent called for rescue workers, machinery and drinking water. A crisis center was set up by the country’s Health Ministry in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

By Monday, more than 2,300 emergency personnel were in the region, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said. Tents and rescue teams have come from as far away as Iran and Azerbaijan.

The crisis center said Sunday that 29 surrounding towns had sent help and medical helicopters were taking the injured for treatment in other provinces. Thirty-seven patients were taken to Ankara, Atalay said Monday.

Two tent hospitals were being set up in Ercis, and two cargo planes were dispatched from the capital carrying medical teams and aid.

Prime Minister Erdogan and Health Minister Akdag arrived in the area Sunday, according to the Ministry of Health’s crisis center.

Israel offered Turkey “any help it may require” after the earthquake, Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office said. Israel and Turkey, once close allies, saw a deterioration in relations in a dispute over an Israeli naval commando raid on the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.

A spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the country, while grateful for offers of aid, is prepared to handle the disaster on its own.

Turkey is “no stranger to having these seismic events,” but Sunday’s quake is considered major, CNN Meteorologist Reynolds Wolf reported.

A magnitude 7.6 earthquake in Izmit, Turkey, killed more than 17,000 people in 1999, according to the USGS. A magnitude 7.2 tremor in Duzce the same year killed 894 people, the USGS reported.

Sunday’s major quake hit at 1:41 p.m. local time.

CNN’s Talia Kayali, Guy Azriel, and Hande Atay contributed to this report.