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Earthquake in Turkey brings back memories for Bemidji man

Reading about a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the country of Turkey on Sunday caught the attention of one Bemidji resident who had been to Turkey nearly a dozen times.

Retired Bemidji State University Professor David Kingsbury said Monday he took 10 trips over the course of four years to the country with a group of BSU instructors. The group helped develop online courses and professional training programs at Ankara University, based in the country's capital of Ankara.

This region of Turkey was not affected by the recent earthquake, but Kingsbury recalled learning an earthquake had struck the country about one month before he arrived to the country for the first time.

"We never saw physical evidence until we drove to the southeast portion, near the Mediterranean Sea," he said. "That country is plagued by quakes."

On Monday, distraught Turkish families mourned outside a mosque or sought to identify loved ones among rows of bodies as rescue workers scoured debris for survivors after the 7.2-magnitude quake killed at least 279 people.

Rescue teams with generator-powered floodlights worked into the night in the worst-hit city of Ercis, where running water and electricity were cut by the quake that rocked eastern Turkey on Sunday. Unnerved by over 200 aftershocks, many residents slept outside their homes, making campfires to ward off the cold, as aid organizations rushed to erect tents for the homeless.

Victims were trapped in mounds of concrete, twisted steel and construction debris after over a hundred buildings in two cities and mud-brick homes in nearby villages pancaked or partially collapsed in Sunday's earthquake. About 80 multistory buildings collapsed in Ercis, a city of 75,000 close to the Iranian border that lies in one of Turkey's most earthquake-prone zones.

Cranes and other heavy equipment lifted slabs of concrete, allowing residents to dig for the missing with shovels.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the quake killed 279 people and injured 1,300, though search-and-rescue efforts could end as early as today. Authorities said 10 of the dead were students learning about the Quran at a religious school that collapsed.

Kingbury said it appeared to him while he was in Turkey the country had a well-developed military operation, so he suspects most of the cleanup efforts for the recent earthquake are being handled by the country's military, police officers and firefighters.

"I think they're probably handling it as well as they probably can," he said. "People have a tendency to think that because Turkey is a developing country, they're not able to cope with things as well as we can. But look at how we handled Hurricane Katrina."

He added the fatalities of the recent tragically were probably due to structures collapsing.

"Many of their structures are very old," he said. "They probably were built before we had earth quake standards."

Kingsbury said he still keeps in touch with those he met at Ankora University and hopes to be back in Turkey in the next five years.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.