Survivors of a deadly earthquake in southeast Turkey scrambled for tents on Thursday, fearful that more people would die from exposure to plunging temperatures four days after the tremor killed at least 523.
Some quake victims have blamed the government for a slow response and accused officials of handing aid to supporters, after standing in long queues for tents only to be told that there were none left.
“Everyone is getting sick and wet. We have been waiting in line for four days like this and still nothing. It gets to our turn and they say they have run out,” said Fetih Zengin, 38, an estate agent whose house was badly damaged in Ercis, a town of 100,000 that was hardest hit by Sunday’s 7.2 magnitude quake.
“We slept under a piece of plastic erected on some wood boards we found. We have 10 children in our family, they are getting sick. Everyone needs a tent, snow is coming. It’s a disaster.”
The death toll rose to 481 and the number of injured was put at 1,650 in the biggest quake in more than a decade in Turkey.
Searches for survivors went on at some sites but at others rescuers stopped work. A mother and her baby were pulled out dead from one building during the night, witnesses said.
Many in the mainly Kurdish region complained of profiteers exploiting the distribution of food and tents.
“People are taking 10 tents and selling them. It’s a disgrace. I slept in the municipal park all night in the rain. My shoes are filled with water. I only registered to get a tent this morning as I have been busy burying the dead,” said Ergun Ozmen, 37, carrying loaves of bread after queuing for food.
The Turkish Red Crescent, which had acted swiftly to provide refuge for Syrians fleeing the violence in their homeland this year, has been blamed by some for a lack of organisation.
Some Turks have criticized the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which hopes to ease relations with the Kurdish minority that dominate the region. They suggest the party is prioritizing aid for public servants in the region — a charged denied by local party officials.
Several countries have answered Turkey’s call for help to supply tents, prefabricated housing and containers, including Israel despite bad terms between the two governments since Israeli commandos killed nine Turks aboard a flotilla taking aid to Palestinians in Gaza last year.
Exhausted relatives clung to the hope that loved ones would be found, keeping vigil at the site of their destroyed homes as searches went on for any sign of life.
Overnight, groups of shell-shocked people roamed aimlessly, with no home to go to, huddling around fires as temperatures dropped to freezing. Others congregated in relief camps.
Cold rain in the past two days has added to woes, and for villagers in outlying areas there were fears of a second wave of death with the first expected winter snow next month.
“After 15 days, half of the people here will die, freeze to death,” said Orhan Ogunc, a 37-year-old man in Guvencli, a village of some 200 homes deep in the hills between Ercis and the city of Van. His family had a Red Crescent tent, though they were sharing it with five other families.
Due to primitive housing in the quake-hit region, many villages were devastated. Although some families were staying out in the open few were ready to leave their land, preferring to bank on promises of temporary housing within about six weeks.
“They say we will get prefabricated houses in one-and-a-half months,” said Zeki Yatkin, a 46-year old man who had lost his father in the quake. “We can’t tolerate the cold, but what else could we do?”
Search operations ended in the city of Van. Provincial governor Munir Karaloglu said only six buildings had collapsed in the city, whereas many more were destroyed in Erciş.
27 October 2011, Thursday / REUTERS, ERCİŞ