ANKARA, Turkey -- A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.2 struck eastern Turkey Sunday, collapsing some buildings and causing a number of deaths, officials said. At least 50 people were injured.
The temblor struck eastern Van province at 1:41 p.m. (1041 GMT; 6:41 a.m. EDT), the US Geological Survey said. It caused widespread panic throughout the province as well as neighboring cities.
"The quake was strongly felt in Van and neighboring towns, and caused damage and deaths based on initial assessments," the prime minister's office said.
The earthquake toppled some buildings in downtown Van as well as the neighboring town of Ercis, officials said. Several strong aftershocks also were reported.
"There are so many dead. Several buildings have collapsed. There is too much destruction," Zulfikar Arapoglu, the mayor of Ercis, told NTV television. "We need urgent aid. We need medics."
NTV also said Van's airport was damaged and planes were being diverted to neighboring cities.
Terrified residents spilled into the streets in panic as rescue workers and residents using their bare hands and shovels struggled to evacuate people believed to be trapped under collapsed buildings, television footage showed.
In Van, at least two buildings collapsed, Bekir Kaya, the mayor of Van town, told NTV. One of them was a seven-story building, according to Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency.
At least 50 people were treated for injuries in the courtyard of the state hospital in Van, said the state-run Anatolia news agency.
"The telephone system is jammed due to panic, and we can't assess the entire damage immediately," Kaya said.
Several Cabinet ministers headed to the area as authorities mobilized rescue teams across the country.
The USGS originally gave the magnitude as 7.3 but later corrected it to 7.2. It said the quake had a depth of 20 kilometers (12.4 miles), which is relatively shallow and could potentially cause more damage.
Turkey's Kandilli observatory gave the quake a preliminary magnitude of 6.6, but put its depth at 5 kilometers (3 miles). Several aftershocks as strong as magnitude 5.5 followed, the observatory said.
The quake's epicenter was in the village of Tabanli in eastern Van province, bordering Iran. But it was felt in several provinces across the area.
Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, which is crossed by fault lines.
In 1999, about 18,000 people were killed by two powerful earthquakes that struck northwestern Turkey. Authorities had blamed shoddy construction for many of the deaths. (AP)