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Looting in Turkey as quake survivors seethe over aid
by Staff Writers
Ercis, Turkey (AFP) Oct 26, 2011

Residents receive aid on a street after an earthquake in Ercis, province of Van, on October 25, 2011.The death toll from a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck eastern Turkey rose to 432 Tuesday, according to figures released by the emergency unit in the prime minister's office. Photo courtesy AFP.

France sending aid flight to Turkey
Paris (AFP) Oct 26, 2011 - France will send a plane carrying humanitarian aid including tents to Turkey on Thursday to assist victims of the country's devastating earthquake, the French foreign ministry said.

"Faced with the scale of the catastrophe... we are preparing to send a humanitarian assistance plane carrying a significant consignment of large family tents intended for people left homeless," ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in a statement Wednesday.

The plane will fly from Paris to the eastern city of Erzurum, from where Turkish authorities are coordinating quake relief efforts.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday acknowledged failures in the relief effort after Sunday's 7.2-magnitude earthquake, which killed 461 people according to an official death toll that is expected to rise.

After previously refusing to accept offers of help from abroad, Ankara said it was changing its mind because of the urgent need for housing materials for those left homeless.

Desperate survivors of Turkey's devastating earthquake looted truckloads of aid supplies as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged failures Wednesday in the relief effort.

As night-time temperatures dropped to below zero and snow was forecast to fall overnight, authorities were in a race against time to provide some form of shelter for the thousands of people who faced another night out in the open.

Weather reports said temperatures in Van province would dip two to four degrees Celsius on Thursday, with further snow expected at night.

Officials raised the death toll to 481, with more than 1,600 injured, but the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has said that "hundreds, possibly thousands" of people are still trapped under the rubble in the eastern region.

While a 27-year-old teacher was plucked to safety in the early morning, hopes of finding more people alive were fading fast.

Rescue teams on Wednesday night recovered the body of a two-year-old child in the town of Ercis, which bore the brunt of the quake.

Excavators in Van meanwhile began clearing rubble on Wednesday evening as rescue workers estimated that no survivors were left beneath the debris.

With complaints about the pace of the relief effort mounting, the government finally agreed to accept help from abroad although Erdogan insisted that things were now coming under control after a tricky beginning.

"We accept that there were some failures within the first 24 hours," the prime minister said in remarks on Turkish television, in particular acknowledging problems with the distribution of tents.

However he also said it was understandable that there would be teething problems given the scale of the disaster and that he had sent a number of ministers to oversee the relief efforts.

"Almost a quarter of the cabinet is there now ... we have brought the situation under control in the last couple of days," he said.

While the government initially refused outside offers of help it reversed that decision late Tuesday.

A Ukrainian plane landed in Erzurum airport Wednesday evening, close to Van province, bringing four tents with a 20-man capacity and a heating system, Anatolia news agency reported. Planes carrying aid from France and Italy were also expected to land in Erzurum, it said.

There have been frequent complaints among residents of the mainly Kurdish region that the Ankara government would have acted faster if disaster had struck elsewhere.

"We did not discriminate between Turks, Kurds or Zaza people ... We said that they are all our people," Erdogan said.

But the revelation from the Turkish Red Crescent that 17 aid trucks had been raided highlighted the sense of despair among survivors.

Ahmet Lutfi Aker, the national head of the organisation, told AFP that the trucks had been looted both in the provincial capital Van and in Ercis.

Locals in Ercis recounted seeing the driver of one of the trucks assaulted before his attackers made off with food and blankets.

There was uproar among the crowds on Wednesday when they learned that the local governor's office had stopped distributing tents, instead transferring responsibility to village headmen.

"Yesterday I waited here until midnight and I received nothing. I came back this morning at 3:00 am and have been waiting since then and now the distribution is cancelled," said 29-year-old Erdal Bayram, a construction worker.

"I need a tent for myself and for my father. We made a makeshift tent to sleep under but it rained last night and the wind was blowing."

Omer Tasli, a senior official from Red Crescent said Wednesday the charity would build temporary housing in both Van and Ercis.

After the rescue of a 16-day-old baby, her mother and grandmother sparked scenes of joy on Tuesday, emergency teams managed to beat the odds again on Wednesday by pulling 27-year-old Gozde Bahar from the debris of her home. The teacher was immediately rushed to hospital after a 66-hour ordeal.

But her rescue was a rare slice of good news as the number of body bags mounted.

In the village of Guvecli, locals said they had had to recover the bodies of their loved ones by themselves.

"We had to do it by our own means, by shovels and digging tools," Guvecli resident Ahmet Yayin told AFP as he clustered around a fire to keep warm.

As well as the offers of help in the relief effort from abroad, there have also been other shows of solidarity.

Israel's foreign ministry said that it had been asked to help despite the recent deterioration of ties between the two countries.

And during his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI called on the world's Catholics to pray for those who had lost their life and "be spiritually close to many who are in distress."

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Quake survivors say forgotten by Turkish authorities
Guvecli, Turkey (AFP) Oct 26, 2011 - Residents of remote villages flattened by Turkey's powerful earthquake say they are digging out bodies with their own shovels after being left to fend for themselves by the authorities.

While rescue efforts have reached the town of Ercis, which bore the brunt of Sunday's quake, little help has trickled out to the villages of Van province.

Some 30 kilometres (20 miles) away from Van city the residents of Guvecli village are complaining of lack of help from the authorities and have taken to using their own tools to search for bodies.

"We recovered our relatives' bodies from the wreckage by our own means, by shovels and digging tools," said Ahmet Yayin.

Some shelter has arrived in the form of 35 tents provided by the Red Crescent, but locals say there are not enough to go round the population of 1,800.

"We are squeezed in the tents. We are a family of 12 but we could only get one tent," said Abdulaziz Yatkin, one of the villagers.

Each tent is designed to house a maximum of five people.

Guvecli villagers are mourning 15 of their own and are grateful that the toll is not higher. When the 7.2-magnitude quake struck, most of the village were out of doors attending a wedding.

After initially refusing any outside help, Turkey has changed its mind after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan conceded there were "failures" in tackling the problem in the first 24 hours and that authorities needed assistance.

Israel's foreign ministry said on Tuesday his government had been asked for help by Turkey despite strained ties between the two countries.

"Turkey has asked us for caravans for the homeless after the earthquake," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP. "We accepted immediately and we will quickly see what we can supply."

Three days after the quake, as the death toll climbs towards 500, homeless survivors are freezing in sub-zero temperatures.

In Guvecli, villagers are bracing for the arrival of snow, forecast for Wednesday.

Many have already spent three nights sleeping outside, crammed into tents or other makeshift shelters, with only small fires for warmth.

They say that food supplies, which have been arriving from the southeastern Tunceli province, some distance away, are also wanting.

Turkey is no stranger to earthquakes. In 1999, two strong quakes in heavily populated and industrialised regions in the northwest left some 20,000 dead.

A powerful earthquake in the town of Caldiran in Van province killed 3,840 people in 1976.


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