Armenia Provides First Relief to Quake Hit Turkey

YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Reuters)–Armenia on Friday sent relief supplies to its traditional foe Turkey for the first time since a massive earthquake hit the country’s northwest on August 17–killing more than 18,000 people and leaving many more homeless.

Yerevan offered to send in emergency aid and a team of rescuers immediately after the tragedy–but the Turkish government turned it down–provoking domestic uproar. Ankara’s move added to the criticism of its handling of the disaster–with the Turkish media demanding the resignation of some government ministers.

The press service of the Armenian government said a plane loaded with medicines–blankets and mobile power stations headed for Istanbul on Friday. It said the relief operation was led by chief of a government directorate on emergency situations and was aimed at "stretching out the hand of help to the neighboring country."

A spokeswoman for the Armenian foreign ministry told RFE/RL that Ankara’s consent to receive the supplies amounted to permitting the charter flight. She said the previous Armenian help offers were left unanswered.

Meanwhile–foreign rescuers were horrified by the shoddy construction of buildings in Turkey’s earthquake zone–a UN disaster relief official told Reuters Friday.

"Certainly from the feedback we were given–some search and rescue teams were appalled sometimes by the quality of cement and the lack of reinforcement," said Ross Mountain–director of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"Building codes in place in Turkey are good. It has been suggested they are similar to what is applied in California," Mountain told a news conference.

"What is needed is the strict application of those. Turkish authorities recognize the need of being more vigorous in seeing that codes are adhered to in the future," he added.

He was speaking after returning from northwest Turkey–where survivors blame unscrupulous building contractors and officials for allowing sub-standard construction.

Some builders are accused of cutting corners–skimping on steel girders and mixing sand with cement.

The confirmed toll from last week’s quake is 13,472–dead and 27,164 injured.

UN officials in Geneva said that the figure of 35,000 missing persons–received from Turkish officials a week ago when the death toll stood at 7,000–had not been revised.

This implied the death toll from Turkey’s worst natural disaster in 60 years could still rise to 40,000.

A total of 2,200 rescue experts from 35 countries–aided by 130 sniffer dogs–were deployed in the international search and rescue operation which has now been abandoned.

Mountain said 30,000 pre-fabricated housing units were needed to shelter some 200,000 homeless.

"Pre-fabricated houses are a major requirement. They need to be up by winter–which starts in late October," Mountain said.

"A major focus is to make sure the country gets back on its feet in important industrial areas and by helping people."

The UN quoted Turkey’s Economy Minister Recep Onal as estimating the cost of the earthquake at $10 billion.

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