Turks Assail Leaders for Earthquake Rescue Failures

ISTANBUL (Reuters)–Frustrated Turks accused the government and military on Wednesday of not doing enough to rescue victims of an earthquake that killed nearly 3,500 people and injured more than 16,000.

Survivors said the authorities had failed to send any professional rescuers to areas outside Istanbul and Izmit–the two main cities devastated by Tuesday’s quake. Thousands were believed still trapped in the rubble.

Damage to power–telephone and road networks hampered efforts to reach victims across seven provinces. The main Istanbul-Ankara highway was knocked out when a bridge collapsed.

"You can see the authorities have done nothing," said Merih Yurdalan–searching for her mother–father and sister in the ruins of a six-story apartment building in Golcuk.

"Please tell people abroad to come and help," she said.

There was no sign of government officials or any rescue teams in the town–virtually wiped out by the quake. Some 12,000 houses were reported crushed and whole streets were flattened.

Residents of Izmit rounded on Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to complain about the relief effort as he visited the city near the quake’s epicenter–Anatolian news agency said.

"They haven’t even sent us a sledgehammer," it quoted a man as telling Ecevit. "Not even a glass of water," added a woman.

"We are doing all we can but you know there are major transport problems on the roads," Ecevit said.

His government declared a disaster zone–giving it powers to commandeer private equipment–and closed major highways to anything except relief or medical traffic.

But the measures came too late–many said.

"It is unbelievable that those who govern the earthquake-prone region we live in could be so unprepared," the Human Rights Association said in a statement.

The Istanbul Chamber of Engineers and Architects agreed.

"Since 1992–we have emphasized the risk to the Istanbul area of an earthquake every 100 years…we now see how unheeded our warnings went," they said.

Ecevit said the sheer force of the earthquake–7.4 on the Richter scale–brought huge challenges.

"We are doing what we can. Hundreds are waiting to be saved from the rubble," he said.

Witnesses reported international aid workers harnessing local volunteers in Izmit–the city closest to Istanbul in the disaster zone.

But in remote areas residents tore at the rubble with makeshift tools and their bare hands.

International rescue teams began arriving in Turkey on Tuesday with sniffer dogs and relief supplies.

"To their credit–Turkey has responded very quickly–giving the go-ahead for international aid workers almost immediately," said Steve Coles–of the British-based International Rescue Corps.

Survivors–frantic to find their loved ones–sometimes did more harm than good by taking private bulldozers to move rubble.

Rescue experts said that could cause the rubble to collapse and crush survivors in "void spaces" – small pockets of air between the concrete slabs.

"Look at this–we are working with nothing," said a burly firefighter in an Istanbul shantytown–shortly after the quake struck on Tuesday.

Opposite–a wailing five-year-old was trapped between a bed and a wall for two hours while firefighters searched for a pair of wire cutters to cut through the bed springs.

The government has set up crisis response centers–but allocated only a few telephone lines–making it nearly impossible for people to get through.

A giant fire at the country’s biggest oil refinery Tupras raged–threatening nearby residents–while domestic firefighting capacity proved inadequate. Foreign firefighting aircraft only began to arrive on Wednesday.

Relief workers said balmy summer weather could be one thing working in survivors’ favor.

"Of course it’s better that it’s warm. You don’t want torrential rain or cold–but water and dehydration become problems," Coles said.


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