Turkey, Syria earthquake death toll nears 12,000

DM Monitoring

ANKARA: Turkey’s president has rejected growing criticism of the authorities’ response to Monday’s huge earthquakes, as the death toll rose to nearly 12,000 across Turkey and Syria and rescuers continued to pull survivors from the freezing rubble.
Making his first visit to Turkey’s worst-affected region since the 7.8- and 7.5-magnitude quakes hit within hours of each other, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan acknowledged early problems with Turkey’s response but said it was now working well.
“Of course, there are shortcomings. The conditions are clear to see. It’s not possible to be ready for a disaster like this,” Erdoğan said on a visit to Hatay, a southern province that has the highest death toll in the country.
Many Turks have complained of a lack of equipment and support as they waited helplessly next to the rubble of their apartment blocks, unable to rescue relatives and neighbours trapped inside despite sometimes hearing cries for help.
Erdoğan condemned the mounting criticism of rescue efforts. “This is a time for unity, solidarity. I cannot stomach people conducting negative campaigns for political interest,” said the president, who faces an election in May.
Erdoğan said 9,057 people were confirmed dead in Turkey in the aftermath of the twin quakes. According to Syrian officials and a rescue group in rebel-held north-west Syria, the death toll there has reached 2,662, bringing the combined tally to 11,719.
Experts have predicted the toll in both countries will rise further, and perhaps more than double, as hundreds of collapsed buildings in many cities have become tombs for people who were asleep when the first quake hit in the early morning.
Erdoğan, wary of the impact of any perception his government was failing in its response to Turkey’s most deadly quake since 1939, has declared a state of emergency in the areas concerned and sent in troops to help. He has also promised new housing within a year for those left homeless in the 10 affected provinces, where an estimated 64,000 buildings have been destroyed.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, on Wednesday accused the government of failing to cooperate with local authorities and weakening non-governmental organisations that could help.
“I refuse to look at what is happening as above politics and align with the ruling party. This collapse is exactly the result of systematic profiteering politics,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. “If there is anyone responsible for this process, it is Erdoğan. It is this ruling party that has not prepared the country for an earthquake for 20 years.”
Survivors in southern Turkey and north-west Syria, meanwhile, spent a second night in the freezing cold, many taking refuge in their cars or under blankets in the streets, fearful of going back into potentially seriously weakened buildings.
A winter storm and subzero temperatures have rendered many roads in the region – some of them already severely damaged by the earthquakes – almost impassable, resulting in traffic jams that stretch for miles in some areas. A lack of heavy equipment is also severely hindering the rescue effort.