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'So scared': Fear of aftershocks in debris-strewn Turkey

A man puts his head in his hands as people search for survivors in Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey
— Diyarbakir (Turkey) (AFP)

Tulin Akkaya had just started to gather her thoughts after being woken by the biggest earthquake to strike Turkey in nearly a century when a second massive jolt sent her scrambling for safety on the street.

Buildings lay in ruins around her southeastern city of Diyarbakir -- home to many of the millions who have fled war and poverty in neighbouring Syria.

The same crescent of devastation stretched across major cities running along the two countries' border in the wake of the 7.8-magnitude pre-dawn quake.

Officials have put the combined death toll at nearly 1,800.

Buildings lay in ruins around the southeastern city of Diyarbakir

The number was certain to grow and Akkaya was trying to piece together the remains of her life when a second jolt shook her house and sent her rushing outside.

"I am so scared. I felt (the aftershock) so strongly because I live on the top floor," the 30-something housewife said.

"We rushed outside in panic. It was almost the same as the morning's earthquake. I can't go back to my apartment now, I don't know what will happen next."

- 'Apocalypse' -

The aftershock was registered at a magnitude of 7.5 -- a size that scientists say strikes only around 20 times around the world a year.

That two earthquakes of that strength hit the same remote and largely undeveloped area in rapid succession underscores the scale of the challenge facing rescuers and recovery workers in both Turkey and Syria.

The earthquakes toppled buildings in major cities along Turkey's border with Syria

Officials counted more than 50 aftershocks within the first 10 hours of the initial disaster. They warned that more would rumble on for many more days.

The relentless shaking sent damaged buildings crumbling in both Diyarbakir and nearby cities such as Kahramanmaras.

The second big blow came just as survivors had started to wander back into their apartments to pick up belongings that could help them survive the cold night ahead.

Most of the region has lost access to gas and power. The weather service was promising rain and sleet across southeastern Turkey for much of the remaining week.

"Since I live in an earthquake zone, I am used to being shaken," said Kahramanmaras-based reporter Melisa Salman.

"But that was the first time we have ever experienced anything like that," the 23-year-old told AFP. "We thought it was the apocalypse."

- Child pulled out alive -

There were some glimmers of hope and rays of joy.

Turkish television and social media periodically lit up Monday with news that a child had been pulled alive from under huge slabs of concrete debris.

NTV television showed a little girl named Zehra -- looking slightly dazed and asking for her father -- being wrapped in a wool blanket and put in the back of a waiting sedan.

The medical car then drove off through the snow-cowered street as the crowd dispersed in search of other survivors.

Halis Aktemur was also looking for someone to save back in Diyarbakir.

The 35-year-old was among the first to arrive on the scene of the first big building to collapse in his predominantly Kurdish city.

"We managed save three people, but two were dead," Aktemur recalled. "After the second quake, I can't go anywhere. I am thinking they will need my help again."

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