Erdogan visits disaster zone amid growing anger over quake response
(Update 1: Upgrades death toll, adds detail throughout, changes head, lede)
Ankara/Beirut, Feb 8 (EFE).- The Turkish president on Wednesday visited a city devastated by the recent powerful earthquakes amid a growing public outcry over the allegedly sluggish official response to the disaster that has killed over 11,000 people in southern Turkey and northern Syria.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in the city of Kahramanmaras that 8,574 people were confirmed to have died and nearly 50,000 injured as a result of the massive temblors that rocked the area near the Turkey-Syria border on Monday.
Over 2,500 people are reported to have died across the border in Syria, according to combined figures offered by the Syrian government and organizations operating in opposition-held territory.
“We have mobilized all our resources. The state is working with municipalities, especially AFAD (Turkey’s disaster agency), with all its means,” said Erdogan, who faces a decisive presidential election in May.
“The first day there were some problems, but the second day and today things are under control. We will begin to remove the rubble and our goal is to rebuild the houses in Kahramanmaras and the other affected cities within a year,” he added.
Although 60,000 rescue workers have been deployed across the worst-affected regions of southern and southeastern Turkey, the scale and severity of the damage means there are communities where help is yet to arrive.
Amid freezing temperatures and destroyed infrastructure, local residents reeling from the natural disaster are voicing their distress and pointing fingers at the government.
“What happened to the taxes we pay? Where is the Red Crescent? We haven’t received anything. We are having to relieve ourselves among swollen bodies. They have given us a tent for three families, but we’re worried the children will freeze,” a survivor from Kahramanmaras told Halk TV.
Yilmaz Kurt, a doctor who drove to Kahramanmaras to help in rescue efforts, told Efe over the phone that there was a shortage of fuel needed for vehicles and rescue machinery.
“No gas station in the region has fuel. A lot of vehicles come to a halt on the road after hitting empty. Excavation equipment also cannot work when they run out of fuel,” he added.
On Monday, a magnitude-7.7 earthquake struck near the Turkish city of Gaziantep and was followed hours later by a second, M7.6 temblor to the north of Kahramanmaras.
The quakes caused devastation across swathes of southern Turkey and northern Syria.
The Syrian health ministry said the death toll in government-controlled areas had risen to 1,262 on Wednesday, while 2,285 were injured, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.
In the areas of the northwestern Syrian provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, under the control of the opposition, surrounded by Russia-backed government forces and bordering Turkey, some 1,280 people have been confirmed dead and more than 2,600 injured, according to the latest count from the White Helmets rescue group.
They warned that “hundreds of families” are still trapped under the remains of collapsed buildings, so the toll is expected to continue to increase significantly.
“We still hear the cries for help from those trapped under the rubble. Many of our own families and neighbors have not survived. Thousands in Syria are dead. Thousands more are missing,” it said, appealing for donations.
In some good news, a family of six as well as a child were rescued alive in Idlib, the White Helmets said alongside videos and photos posted on Twitter.
Since Monday, planes carrying aid have arrived in Syria from Algeria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Libya, Iraq and Iran, in addition to assistance from Russia and India, while Lebanon also has dozens of troops on the ground helping in the rescue efforts, according to SANA.
It was unclear, however, if any of this aid would reach the badly affected opposition-held areas, despite the promises of the country’s representative to the United Nations.