Holy Father Grieves and Prays For Turkish Earthquake Victims

VATICAN CITY-Pope John Paul II sent his condolences after an earthquake in Turkey killed thousands of people and injured thousands more.

An Aug. 17 telegram in the Pope's name and signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said the Holy Father was “deeply saddened by the news of the heavy loss of life and injury”'caused by the previous day's quake.

Cardinal Sodano said “the Holy Father is praying for those who died or were injured,” and that he is spiritually close to the families of the victims “at this time of tragic loss.”

The Pope “implores almighty God's gifts of courage and strength upon all who are grieving,” 'said the cardinal.

The earthquake in northwestern Turkey struck at 3 a.m. local time Aug. 17, rocking some of the country's biggest cities and collapsing buildings with occupants asleep inside.

At least 12,000 people were killed and 33,000 injured, the Anatolian news agency in Turkey reported Aug. 18. Hospitals were said to be overwhelmed.

Casualty reports were heaviest near the industrial city of Izmit, where an oil refinery burst into flame, about 55 miles east of Turkey's largest city of Istanbul.

Local authorities in the earthquake-hit areas appealed for rescue equipment, food and volunteers to dig out the victims.

Izmir, about 400 miles from the quake's epicenter, also felt the powerful first shock.

Archbishop Giuseppe Bernardini of Izmir told the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire that the situation in the earthquake-hit region was “desperate.”

“The television reports show frenzied [rescue] activity,”'the bishop said, “but the needs of the population are enormous.

“Who could ever count all those who have been made homeless?”

Archbishop Bernardini said many residents were worried about friends and relatives elsewhere, but were unable to reach the hardest-hit region by cellular phone or by phone lines.

Experts in the United States monitoring earthquakes worldwide placed the magnitude at 7.8 on the Richter Scale.

A 6.3 magnitude quake in southern Turkey in 1998 killed 144 people and injured more than 1,500.