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Rescue teams halt operations as death toll rises to 41 in Turkey earthquake

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Emergency teams on Monday halted their search and rescue operations among the rubble in Turkey’s southeastern province of Elazığ, which was hit by a strong earthquake on Friday evening, with officials announcing that 41 people were killed due to the quake, Turkish media reported.

The magnitude 6.8 earthquake also injured more than 1,600 others, authorities said. At least 45 survivors have been pulled out of the rubble alive, according to The Associated Press.

The quake destroyed 76 buildings and damaged more than 1,000 others, forcing survivors to take refuge in tents, mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories. Authorities warned people not to return to homes that could be unsafe.

Friday’s quake struck at 8:55 p.m. in the province, which lies 565 kilometers (350 miles) east of Ankara. It was followed by close to 950 aftershocks — 21 of them of them measuring magnitude 4 or higher.

As overnight temperatures dropped to -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), emergency teams set up more than 9,500 tents for displaced residents and distributed hot meals.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 86 people injured by the quake remained hospitalized on Monday, 18 of them in intensive care.

Over the weekend, rescuers pulled out Ayşe Yıldız, 35, and her 2-year-old daughter Yusra from the rubble of another toppled apartment building in Elazığ. They had been trapped for 28 hours.

Another couple who survived were reunited with a Syrian student who had helped to dig them out.

“He is our hero and angel,” a weeping Dürdane Aydın said of Mahmud al Osman.

Turkey’s Emergency and Disaster Management Agency said close to 4,000 workers and 22 dogs have been involved in the search-and-rescue operation.

Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, which sits atop two major fault lines.

The province of Elazığ had been hit by fatal quakes before — a magnitude 6.0 earthquake killed 51 people there in 2010.

Turkey’s worst quake in decades came in 1999, when a pair of strong earthquakes struck northwest Turkey, killing around 18,000 people.

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