Search finds more bodies in quake-hit Turkish city

Rescuers found ten bodies, including a child’s, on Friday as they dug through rubble after the latest earthquake to hit Van, a city in eastern Turkey already suffering from an earlier quake and simmering anger over the authorities’ emergency response.The toll from Wednesday’s 5.7 magnitude tremor rose to 22, with search and rescue operations continuing at the two city center hotels that were the only occupied buildings to come down. Most people had abandoned their homes in the predominantly Kurdish city after the earlier quake nearly three weeks ago.

Though the loss of life is nowhere near the scale of the October 23 quake that killed more than 600, the latest calamity highlighted discontent over a relief operation that has left many families pleading for tents, despite the government’s insistence that enough have been provided.

People’s desperation has become more acute with the approach of winter, and on Friday snow began falling in the city of one million, with surrounding mountain tops already capped in white.

A day earlier, police fired tear gas to disperse some 200 protesters who had chanted for the removal of the state governor, saying there were not enough tents for people too afraid to return to their damaged homes.

The state’s Disaster and Emergency Administration (AFAD) said 44 aircraft had flown to the region with relief aid. Among the equipment brought in was some 6,500 tents and almost 50,000 blankets.

Some 300 quake victims have been sent to Istanbul and Ankara in western Turkey.

Aftershocks have jolted the area with frightening regularity since last month’s 7.2 magnitude quake, though experts say Wednesday’s tremor represented a new seismic event rather than an aftershock according to Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay, who is overseeing the relief effort.


A 5.7 magnitude tremor would not normally inflict much damage, but buildings in the city were weakened by the earlier quake, and some 22 collapsed.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said an investigation would be launched into how the hotels which collapsed had been ruled safe before the latest quake.

“Of course we will start a legal process here. Whoever gave the (report) that they were habitable, whether from the university community, whether from AFAD, we will start a legal process regarding them,” he said in a speech.

“My son is in there,” one middle-aged man wrapped in a blanket said as he was led away, distraught that his 19-year-old boy was missing below the heap of broken concrete that was once the Hotel Bayram.

Other men and women sat on a mattress in the road, crying in despair, as rescue teams worked painstakingly to clear debris in hope of finding more survivors, having already pulled 28 from the ruins.

The teams worked to clear the rubble using cutting equipment, pick axes and heavy lifting equipment, occasionally stopping to use sensitive listening equipment in a bid to hear any sound of life beneath the rubble.

“We will keep searching until all the rubble has been removed,” said a rescue worker from the paramilitary gendarmerie, as he sipped a cup of tea as a colleague took his place shifting the debris.

The quake cut power in the city, but the rescue work continued through the night under floodlights powered by mobile generators. The center of a city appeared like a ghost town with all the buildings abandoned.

As morning broke some men huddled in one-storey tea houses or kebab shops, the very few places that have reopened.

One or two groups of men lit fires on the street, burning rubbish to keep warm.

Tent cities have been set up on the outskirts of town, but many families have pitched tents close to their homes, though the authorities want to bring them into the organized camps, where aid and sanitation is better regulated.


VAN, Turkey (Reuters) – By Jonathon Burch(Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Matthew Jones)


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