Turkey Scrambles to Help Quake Survivors as Death Toll Rises

Posted October 27th, 2011 at 8:45 am (UTC-5)
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Cold weather and snow have complicated rescue efforts in Turkey, four days after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake decimated much of the southeastern part of the country.

Turkish authorities are racing to provide shelter for thousands of victims left homeless by the quake. Officials say the death toll from Sunday's temblor has risen to 523 with at least 1,650 people injured. Authorities expect the death toll to continue to climb as more bodies are pulled from the rubble.

Three people were found alive Wednesday in Ercis, but hope of finding other survivors are fading. Ankara initially accepted help only from Iran and Azerbaijan, which border the heavily damaged area, but has now asked for help from other countries. Some international aid, including tents, clothing and food, has already arrived in Turkey. The first Israeli plane containing prefabricated housing units arrived on Thursday, despite strained relations with Turkey.

Many displaced residents complain the government is not acting fast enough to distribute aid. Despite waiting in long lines for hours, some have been unable to get tents or shelter. Many people have been forced to sleep outdoors with blankets near campfires. But others have been more fortunate.

There have been reports of some people obtaining extra tents and selling them for profit, while Turkey's Red Crescent organization said 17 of its supply trucks were looted Wednesday.

The International Federation of the Red Cross says its Turkish chapter is working to assist survivors. The Red Cross says more than 7,500 tents and 22,000 blankets have been distributed, as well as stoves, food and clean water.

World leaders have sent condolences to Turkey. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and President Serzh Sarkisian of Armenia made a joint telephone call to Turkish President Abdullah Gul to express their sympathies. U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States will stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Turkey during this difficult time.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Turkish authorities for their rapid response to the disaster and said the U.N. remains ready to offer help if requested.