A powerful earthquake struck eastern Turkey on Friday, killing four people and damaging buildings near the epicentre of the tremor, which was also felt in neighbouring countries.

The magnitude 6.8 quake hit Elazig province, about 550 km east of the capital, Ankara, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said four people had been killed in what he described as a serious tremor – two in Elazig and two more in the neighbouring province of Malatya.

State broadcaster TRT showed footage of police and emergency workers searching a partly collapsed building in Elazig. Windows were smashed and balconies had crashed to the ground.

Turkish aid organisations said they had sent teams to affected areas and Soylu described the earthquake as a ‘level 3’ incident according to the country’s emergency response plan. This means it requires assistance at the national level but is one stage short of needing international help.

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The quake struck in a remote, relatively sparsely populated area and it could take some time for authorities to establish the full extent of damage.

State media in neighbouring Syria and Iran both reported the earthquake was felt in those countries. Local media in Lebanon said the cities of Beirut and Tripoli also felt the quake.

Turkey has a history of powerful earthquakes. More than 17,000 people were killed in August 1999 when a 7.6 magnitude quake struck the western city of Izmit, 90 km southeast of Istanbul. About 500,000 people were made homeless.

In 2011 an earthquake struck the eastern city of Van and the town of Ercis, some 100 km to the north, killing at least 523 people.

-Reuters