US to Begin Airlifting Aid to Quake-hit Turkey

Posted October 28th, 2011 at 6:00 pm (UTC-5)
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The U.S. military will send blankets, sleeping bags, hygiene kits and other supplies to Turkey to help victims of the powerful earthquake that struck Sunday.

The Pentagon said Friday that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is authorizing U.S. European Command to begin airlifting humanitarian assistance after receiving a request from the Turkish government.

The death toll from the 7.2 magnitude quake has risen to at least 575 people after it destroyed buildings and caused widespread damage in eastern Van province. Some 2,500 people have been injured and thousands are displaced.

Turkish authorities are rushing to provide shelter for thousands of victims left homeless by the quake as the cold weather sets in.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. will assist in any way possible. He said the airlifting of the supplies will begin within the next day.

The United Nations refugee agency said Friday it is launching an emergency airlift to the quake-stricken region. A UNHCR spokesman said the first of four daily cargo planes, each carrying about 500 tents and 10,000 blankets, will land Friday evening in the eastern city of Erzurum.

From there, trucks will bring the supplies to the provincial capital of Van for distribution to quake victims. The spokesman says the shelter needs are great.

The International Federation of the Red Cross says its Turkish chapter has distributed more than 7,500 tents and 22,000 blankets, as well as stoves, food and clean water.

Many displaced residents have complained 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.

Rescue workers in pulled a teenage boy out of the rubble Friday.

But hopes of finding other survivors were fading as cold weather and snow hampered rescue efforts in Ercis, the town hardest hit by the quake, and other towns and villages in the region.