Turk quake survivors plead for tents as cold descends

Survivors of eastern Turkey's earthquake pleaded for more tents on Thursday, fearing death from cold after a tremor that killed at least 523 and left thousands sleeping in the open.

Some blamed the ruling AK party for a slow response and accused officials of handing aid to supporters, after standing in long queues only to be told there were no tents left. 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 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."

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 523, with 1,650 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. Several countries have answered Turkey's call for help to supply tents, prefabricated housing and containers.

Turkish media said prefabricated homes sent by Israel, despite poor relations between the two countries, were being transported to Van on Thursday.


In central Ercis, long lines of people queued for tents in mud and cold rain. Snow fell overnight in the mountains and many said they feared the onslaught of winter. Occasional scuffles broke out.

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.

"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.
Many mud-brick villages have been devastated, but 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?"

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 Ercis.

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 that has lasted three decades in the region. 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.


At one warehouse in Van, about 100 people looted Red Crescent trucks carrying food, blankets, carpets and clothes while a handful of police appeared powerless to stop them.

"The real looter is the AK Party. The aid received in Van is handed to the families of public servants and policemen. Ordinary people don't get anything," one old man told Reuters.

Local officials deny such charges.

Governor Karaloglu said that as of Wednesday 20,000 tents had been handed out, adding that was far more than needed.
A central government appointee, the governor said things would be better if people in the city of one million were not gripped by fear that an aftershock could topple their homes.

"Because of this psychology, and the aftershocks, they don't use their undamaged house and ask for a tent," said Karaloglu. "This is why we have a problem."

He said 600,000 people were affected by the quake, but that did not mean all needed temporary accommodation.

Deputy mayor Cahit Bozbay, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, gave a far bleaker assessment and criticized the governor's office for not working with officials.

He said half of the buildings in Van had been damaged, giving frightened people no choice but to sleep outside.

"We are short of tents. It's a major problem. We lack supplies, but honestly the aid delivery organization is also problematic," said Bozbay.
The Turkish Red Crescent, which acted swiftly to provide refuge for Syrians fleeing the violence in their homeland this year and has sent aid to famine and war victims in Somalia, has been blamed by some for a lack of organization in this disaster.


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