Turk quake victims plead for tents as cold descends

Earthquake death toll passes 500, leaves thousands sleeping out in the open
Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of the earthquake in Ercis, Turkey on October 27, 2011
By Reuters
Thu 27 Oct 2011 03:06 PM

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.

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"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 neighbouring 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.

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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 criticised 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 organisation 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 organisation in this disaster.

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