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DIYARBAKIR, Turkey: In the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, residents were hoping and praying for news of relatives and friends after a massive earthquake and a huge aftershock turned apartment blocks into mounds of rubble and piles of shattered masonry.

With emergency services and rescuers already on the scene after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck, other buildings were brought down in the 7.7 magnitude aftershock, pancaking in plumes of dust to the gasps and screams of onlookers.

“My nephew is under the rubble, with his wife and kids,” Ahmet Budak told Reuters after he had rushed towards their building. “We cannot reach around 30 people in total.”

“We are waiting with hope, God willing we will get good news,” he said in Diyarbakir, a city of 1.2 million where at least 20 buildings crumbled in the powerful tremor even though the city lies 270km from the quake’s epicentre.

For Hasan Sancar, who ran into the street with his family when he felt the earthquake, the lack of contact was ominous.

“We called our relatives and when we could not reach someone, we were scared. There are acquaintances under the rubble right now,” he said.

More than 2,400 people have been killed and thousands more injured in Turkey and northwest Syria.

Some survivors were being pulled from the wreckage, offering moments of hope despite fears the death toll will mount.

“Slowly, slowly,” a rescue worker shouted as a man in a neckbrace was passed on his stretcher over the heads of helpers to a nearby ambulance waiting beside what remained of a demolished building.

Before sunrise, scores of helpers carefully tried to lift and sift rubble by hand or used shovels and chainsaws, looking for signs of life. Some levered up wreckage with poles.

They worked alongside diggers that were guided in to move huge slabs of concrete and sheets of corrugated metal.

At times they paused, calling for quiet as they thought they might have reached someone.

Firecrews used cranes and cherry pickers to peer into the upper floors of damaged buildings, hoping to find people alive despite the destruction.

A bed complete with its patterned sheet and pillow visible inside a room whose outside wall had been sheered clean away showed the scale of the task ahead.

“There are people still trapped under rubble. I have a friend living in this apartment, his children were rescued from the top floor,” resident Bircan Rizvan said.

“We’ll see what happened to those living on the ground floors. May God give us a speedy recovery.”