Turkey steps up quake relief efforts

Erdogan admits government response was inadequate as woman is found alive after nearly three days buried under rubble.

     As the death toll nears 500 people, rescuers say the chance of finding anyone else alive is diminishing [Al Jazeera]

    Turkey has appealed for international aid as it battles to help thousands left homeless in the east of the country by Sunday's earthquake, as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, admitted that the government's response to the crisis had been inadequate.

    An official said on Thursday the death toll in Van, the province where the earthquake struck, had climbed to 523 and the number of injured to 1,650.

    Emergency workers continue to search for survivors in the devastated town of Ercis, rescuing a 27-year-old woman from a collapsed building on Wednesday, after nearly three days buried under rubble.

    The woman, Gozde Bahar, a teacher, went into cardiac arrest en route to hospital after her rescue and remains in a critical condition.

    Erdogan's admission

    As hopes faded for those still missing and attention turned to relief efforts, Erdogan acknowledged that the government had been slow to respond after the earthquake struck.

    "We admit that we failed in the beginning, within the first 24 hours. We acknowledge flaws but these mistakes are pretty normal in such incidents," he said.

    Turkey's government's has now approached 30 countries, including Israel, that have offered help and formally requested temporary housing and emergency materials for the region's thousands of homeless.

    A Ukrainian aircraft landed in Erzurum airport on Wednesday evening, bringing aid supplies, Anatolia news agency reported. Flights carrying aid from France and Italy were also expected to land in Erzurum, it said.

    Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught reports on
    the challenges facing rescue efforts

    Responding to a request for help from Ankara, Israel said it planned to deliver a small number of prefabricated homes by air and said it could ship hundreds more by sea.

    Israel's offer of help was a purely humanitarian gesture, an Israeli defence ministry spokesman said, playing down the recent diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

    Erdogan pledged to build a new city in Van, the provincial capital devastated by the quake, as well as a new town in Ercis.

    Munir Karaloglu, the provincial governor, said 3,000 buildings had collapsed or were made useless.

    He estimated that 600,000 people had been "affected" by the quake, but not all needed temporary accommodation. The exact number of homeless was unclear.

    "Some residents with no damage in their homes are unable to go back because of the aftershocks. That is why everyone wants tents," Karaloglu said.

    Complaints over the lack of tents have grown louder with each passing day, and some desperate survivors fought among themselves to try and grab tents being distributed by relief workers from the back of a lorry.

    The Turkish Red Crescent has been struggling to deliver fast enough to provide shelter for victims of the quake shivering in freezing temperatures at night.

    'Round the clock'

    Speaking to Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught in Ercis, army personnel said they had been "working around the clock, forgoing sleep and regular meals to make sure the job gets done".

    There were only 150 soldiers stationed there and not nearly enough to control the crowds if the locals "decided to take over", she said.

    But while a sense of order had been preserved in the town centre, that was not the case everywhere.

    Our correspondent said some army vehicles had been stopped by locals and relieved of their aid because many had grown impatient and desperate.

    The lack of efficiency in delivering aid has essentially created a black market for white tents, she said.

    An official for the Turkish Red Crescent told the AFP news agency that 17 aid lorries had been looted in Ercis and Van.

    Sunday's 7.2-magnitude quake was Turkey's most powerful since a pair of earthquakes in 1999 in northwestern Turkey killed more than 20,000 people.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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