Turkey scrambles to aid survivors as quake toll mounts
August 19, 1999
IZMIT, Turkey (CNN) -- Turkish authorities scrambled to meet the needs of their earthquake-ravaged country as the death toll from Tuesday's quake ran as high as 7,000 and criticism of government relief efforts grew.
Rescuers searched for more survivors of the earthquake under collapsed buildings around western Turkey's industrial belt, but hope was fading for those still trapped. The Turkish news service Anatolia reported the quake -- which researchers said reached a magnitude of 7.4 -- killed more than 6,300 and injured about 30,000.
Officials on Thursday said the final toll could be as high as 10,000.
Turkey's prime minister announced plans to build tent cities for the thousands left homeless by the quake. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's government has been accused of responding too slowly to the disaster, which has affected several provinces and scores of cities and towns.
"The Turkish nation shall overcome this," Ecevit vowed Thursday as rescuers continued to pull survivors of the quake from ruined structures.
Ecevit found himself under criticism in Izmit, where a massive oil refinery still burned Thursday. Residents shouted complaints at the prime minister as he toured the city, and a local newspaper declared the government's rescue efforts "a pure fiasco."
The prime minister acknowledged some problems, but defended his administration's work.
He said if rescue efforts were not conducted carefully, "While saving one life, you can lose 10."
"We still have a transportation problem. Some of the roads and bridges are still closed because of earthquake damage. Our rescue efforts are increasing and producing better results," he said.
Fires continue in Izmit
The worst damage has come in the industrial towns east of Istanbul. The quake and the Sea of Marmara teamed up to cause new problems in Golcuk as a sea barrier gave way Thursday, adding flooding to the town's problems.
In Izmit, the fire at Turkey's largest refinery continued to spew noxious fumes into the air, but firefighters using helicopters and water cannon appeared to have the blaze under control.
The number of dead forced authorities in Izmit to convert a local ice rink into a makeshift morgue. Residents in the area were told to evacuate, and most fled in fear that the fire will reach a nearby chemical factory and another tank farm loaded with more than 700,000 tons of crude oil.
Ecevit on Thursday said unidentified corpses would have to be buried after being photographed because of the fear of disease. "This was a sad but necessary condition," he said.
Dwindling food supplies and crippled power and water lines in some areas added to the mood of desperation. Crowds mobbed a convoy of bread trucks that entered the city, one of the hardest-hit cities.
International aid continued to pour in Thursday: The United States sent three warships, a detachment of Marines and hospital ships to Turkey. At least 15 countries -- including Turkey's longtime rival, Greece -- have sent assistance and rescue workers to aid in the recovery effort.
Teams of rescue experts were in Turkey from the United States and Switzerland on Thursday, and Israel, France and Canada announced plans to send more relief workers, rescuers and troops to assist.
Israel, which already has dispatched about 200 people to Turkey, said it would send an army field hospital as well. Spain, Bulgaria and Germany all announced plans to send additional rescuers, doctors and medical staff.
Ecevit puts off economic questions
But, with the search for survivors continuing, Ecevit deferred questions about how the quake could affect Turkey's already struggling economy.
"I don't want to think about that now," he said. "We are concerned with people's lives more than financial difficulties."
The hard-hit area accounts for a third of the country's gross domestic product. Turkey's leading business newspaper, Finansal Forum, estimated that the earthquake could cost the country as much as $25 billion. and a time when Turkey is struggling to reduce its government deficit and reduce an annual inflation rate of 50 percent.
Also Thursday, Turkish news outlets raised questions about building practices and whether many buildings had been properly constructed, contributing to the death toll as substandard structures collapsed on their occupants.
Ecevit promised to crack down on shoddy contractors in the aftermath of the quake.
Collapsed buildings leave many nervous
Many Turkish buildings have concrete frames and brick walls, making them particularly vulnerable to earthquakes.
"These are very heavy buildings, and it's not uncommon for them to collapse in earthquakes," said Jim Malley, a U.S. structural engineer who studied damage in Turkey after a 1992 quake.
The announcement of plans for tent cities came as hundreds of thousands of Turks camped outside because they feared going home -- or had no home left. They huddled in yards, parks, and even on highway medians under tents or simple bed sheets tied to sticks.
"We don't trust our own homes," said Dilek Turkmen, 21, as she watched rescue workers sifting through the rubble of a collapsed apartment building on the outskirts of Istanbul.
Tuesday's quake was the most powerful earthquake to hit Turkey since a 1939 quake killed an estimated 33,000 people in the eastern province of Erzincan.
Correspondents Ben Wedeman and Don Knapp contributed to this report.
Hopes fade, frustration grows in Turkey after deadly quake
DISASTER RELIEF SITES:
Doctors Without Borders
News from Turkey
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