The death toll from the massive earthquake that shook eastern Turkey over the weekend rose to 535 Thursday, up from 471 the day before, but crews have been able to rescue 185 people alive from the rubble, Turkish officials said.
In addition, about 2,300 people were injured by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Sunday, according to the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Relief Agency.
Meanwhile, crews rescued 18-year-old Imdat Padak alive from the rubble of an apartment building in Ercis almost 100 hours after the earthquake, the semi-official Anatolian new agency reported.
After teams from Azerbaijan retrieved him, Padak was taken to a hospital for initial treatment, and then was airlifted by helicopter to Van.
Padak appeared not to have any significant trauma, but was suffering dehydration. He is reported to be a student from the village of Kiziloren and was taking courses while preparing for university entrance exams.
Earlier in the week, crews pulled a 2-week-old baby, Azra Karaduman, alive from the debris.
The developments came as there were reports of a moderate earthquake in the country’s south.
A 5.2 earthquake hit about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the center of Sunday’s quake, near the border with Iraq, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.
There were no immediate reports of damage from the latest quake.
Padak was the latest of several people found alive in the rubble days after Sunday’s quake. On Wednesday rescuers pulled two people from collapsed buildings.
Britain has pledged emergency tents for more than 5,500 people whose homes were destroyed, Home Secretary Theresa May said during a visit to Turkey Thursday.
Turkey will accept offers of aid from foreign countries to cope with the aftermath of the Van earthquake, after initially declining offers of help.
Officials said that, with more than 2,000 buildings destroyed, there was an urgent need for accommodation.
The death toll from the disaster stood at 461 but the Red Crescent fears hundreds are still trapped under rubble, feared dead.
A teacher, 27, and a student, 18, were rescued on Wednesday in Ercis.
Gozde Bahar, an English-language teacher, was rescued as her mother watched in tears.
University student Eyup Erdem was found using tiny cameras mounted on sticks.
Rescuers broke into applause as he emerged from the debris.
Turkey is seeking assistance for reconstruction and temporary accommodation for the thousands who have been left homeless, the semi-official news agency Anatolia reports.
From the start, the Turkish government has insisted it can deal with the impact of the earthquake on its own. It is a relatively wealthy and modern country, with experienced disaster management teams in place.
Now it has reversed course, requesting aid even from Israel, with which it has had difficult relations in recent years.
The reason is that Turkey is short of some items, like prefabricated housing, vital for areas of eastern Turkey where tens of thousands have either lost their homes or cannot risk going back to damaged houses.
The weather is already cold, and will become much colder in a couple of months. Rescue workers are continuing to dig in the rubble of collapsed buildings, spurred on by finding a handful of survivors, among them a two-week-old baby.
The government is seeking tents, prefabricated houses and living containers, it says.
Israel will be among the first to send aid, according to AFP news agency.
Ties with Turkey have been strained since May 2010, when Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla trying to sail to Gaza in defiance of a blockade, killing nine Turks.
“Turkey has asked us for caravans for the homeless after the earthquake,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.
He said they had accepted the request and would seek to supply them as quickly as possible.
Israel’s defence ministry said a first Boeing 747 would transport mobile homes to Turkey on Wednesday, and other planes would follow in the coming days.
The Japanese embassy in Ankara said its government would send around $400,000 (£250,000), Anatolia reports.
The BBC’s Jonathan Head, in Ercis, says that the government has recognised that it now needs specific help in technical areas where it lacks the resources to get things up fast enough.
Aid trucks looted
The Turkish government has pledged more aid to the thousands made homeless and aid agencies have set up field hospitals and kitchens and distributed thousands of tents and blankets.
But survivors, many now living in camps, have fought over shipments of aid and blocked aid shipments.
Health officials have urged them to drink bottled water after detecting an increase in diarrhoea cases, especially among children.
Nazmi Gur, a local politician in Van, told the BBC News website that “hundreds of thousands of people” needed help.
“We can provide food but they desperately need shelter,” he added.
The Turkish Red Crescent said that 17 trucks carrying aid had been looted in Van and Ercis.
People in Ercis, which bore the full brunt of the quake, told AFP that unidentified individuals had stopped a truck carrying tents. They told AFP they suspected the goods would be sold on the black market.
Local officials in Van said that early on Wednesday, dozens of survivors, furious at not receiving aid supplies, had raided trucks carrying food and blankets in the city of Van.
Turkish officials have warned that the death toll is likely to rise but there has been no official estimate of the number of people missing.
Turkey is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes because it sits on major geological fault lines.
The latest disaster struck on Sunday at 13:41 (10:41 GMT) at a depth of 20km (12 miles), with its epicentre 16km north-east of the city of Van.
ERCIS, Turkey |
(Reuters) – Rescue workers pulled a man from the rubble alive on Thursday, more than four days after a huge quake killed at least 534 in Turkey, while homeless survivors fearing death from cold begged for aid and some accused the government of a slow response.
“Praise be to Allah!” cried the uncle of 18-year-old Imdat, whose name means “help” in Turkish, as hundreds of onlookers gave shouts of joy in the town of Ercis, the place worst hit by Sunday’s 7.2 magnitude quake in eastern Turkey.
A military rescue team from Azerbaijan rescued Imdat after burrowing deep into the rubble for more than two days.
Freed at last after more than 100 hours buried alive, Imdat was lifted onto a stretcher by medical workers who carried him through cheering crowds crying “Allahu Akbar!” to a waiting ambulance, which whisked him away to hospital.
The dramatic scene was a brief moment of joy after an earthquake that has devastated towns and villages and left thousands sleeping in the open, as the government struggles to deliver tents, food and other aid to distraught families.
Some survivors — who had stood in long queues only to be told there were no tents left — accused officials in the mostly Kurdish region of handing aid to supporters of the ruling AK party. Others said profiteers were hoarding tents and reselling them.
“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.
“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.”
Ergun Ozmen, 37, was carrying loaves of bread after queuing for food. “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,” he said.
The death toll rose to 534, with 2,300 injured in the biggest quake in more than a decade in Turkey. The Disaster and Emergency Administration said 185 people had been rescued alive from collapsed buildings since the quake.
Searches for survivors went on at some sites but at others rescuers stopped work. The bodies of a mother and her baby were pulled out from one building during the night, witnesses said.
Answering Turkey’s call for help in the form of tents, prefabricated housing and containers, foreign aid began pouring in with the first planeloads landing from France, Ukraine — and Israel, despite poor relations between the two countries.
British Home Secretary Theresa May, who is visiting Turkey, said London would send 1,144 protective winter tents. Saudi television reported Saudi Arabia would give Turkey $50 million for quake relief.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs(OCHA) was providing 400 winterized tents, each able to hold five people.
An OCHA spokeswoman said Erzurum, a city 260 km (160 miles) northwest of Ercis, would be a hub for international assistance sent by plane. Van had been asked to establish a center for assistance coming overland, she said.
After days of survivors lining up and sometimes arguing outside distribution centers, the government announced it would no longer hand out tents but would deliver them to those whose homes were deemed unsafe to make sure the neediest got them.
“We will no longer give a tent to whoever asks for one. We will identify the buildings that are unusable and we will deliver the tents ourselves,” Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdogan Bayraktar said, urging survivors to return to homes that were not structurally damaged.
“We will be distributing the tents in a more disciplined manner. We have 6,000 tents in hand and more are coming. Soon we will start the delivery of containers to villages.”
But Mehmet Yildiz, a 50-year-old shop owner who has a two-storey house in the city of Van, said he and his family of 10 were too afraid to go back to his house.
“My house is full of cracks. Whatever the government thinks I am not going inside the house. We are having our kids sleep in the car and the rest of us roam all night long in the streets. They say they won’t give me a tent because my house is not destroyed,” he told Reuters under an umbrella in the rain.
Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker said the government would distribute special tents to house cattle and sheep in mud-brick villages, which have suffered the worst damage and where 3,088 barns have been destroyed.
CLINGING TO HOPE
Exhausted relatives clung to the hope that loved ones would be found, keeping vigil at the site of their destroyed homes as the search for any sign of life went on.
Overnight, groups of shell-shocked people with no home to go to roamed aimlessly, huddling round fires as temperatures dropped to freezing. Others congregated in relief camps.
“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, but were sharing it with five other families.
Few are ready to leave their land.
“They say we will get prefabricated houses in one-and-a-half months,” said Zeki Yatkin, 46, who lost his father in the quake. “We can’t tolerate the cold, but what else can we do?”
Bayraktar said 5,250 homes had been destroyed or badly damaged and 20,000 other households were “affected” in Van, Ercis and outlying villages.
A 5.4 magnitude quake hit the region on Thursday morning but there were no immediate reports of further damage.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in a Kurdish separatist insurgency in the region that has lasted three decades. Last week militants killed 24 troops in neighboring Hakkari province.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government wants to build bridges with minority Kurds, so any accusations of neglect or ineptitude are politically sensitive.
The governor of Van province, Munir Karaloglu, who is a central government appointee, has rejected criticism of the relief efforts. He said the number of tents distributed would reach 28,000 by Thursday, adding that was far more than needed.
Deputy mayor Cahit Bozbay, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, gave a bleaker assessment and criticised the governor’s office for not working with officials.
“We are short of tents. It’s a major problem,” Bozbay said. “We lack supplies, but honestly the aid delivery organization is also problematic.”