Earthquake in Turkey: 40,000 feared dead in ruins of Turkish cities

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The Independent Online
THE FATALITIES from the destruction around Istanbul could well reach 40,000, far in excess of Turkey's official death toll - which last night stood at 6,325 - making Tuesday's earthquake the most devastating to hit the country this century.

Because the government is counting only those bodies so far recovered from the ruins it has woefully underestimated the tragedy that has struck western Turkey, leaving international aid agencies ignorant of the extent of the disaster and the diseases that will follow.

Last night the authorities in Istanbul said they expected another major earthquake within hours and urged the city's 12 million population to sleep on the streets. Other governors in north-western Turkey did the same.

But millions of people have been sleeping rough in public parks and motorway intersections ever since Tuesday, which may suggest the government is trying to forestall criticism of the mass homelessness. It is after all easier to urge people to sleep on the grass than to devise plans to rehouse them. But a series of mild tremors did shake Istanbul.

In Golcuk the official death toll still stands at only a few hundred, even though a massive tidal wave swamped many devastated homes in the immediate aftermath of the quake. The town's mayor believes that the real figure of dead for Golcuk alone is probably 10,000. In Yalova, on the Sea of Marmara, hundreds of people lie buried beneath whole apartment blocks and the fatalities there seem certain to reach Golcuk's probable figure. Turkish geologists have already expressed astonishment at the government figure.

If the worst suspicions prove to be true then Tuesday's catastrophe was even greater than Turkey's previous record earthquake, when 32,962 people died on 26 December 1939 in tremors that were measured as high as 7.9 on the Richter scale.

Although Tuesday's earthquake was initially calculated at 6.7, seismic experts say that the epicentre registered a magnitude of 7.4.

Bulent Ecevit, the Turkish Prime Minister, announced yesterday - over two days after the earthquake - that camps were to be opened for the hundreds of thousands of civilians camping out each night like a medieval army on the streets and public parks of Turkey's north-western cities.

With midday temperatures of 30C and perhaps more than 30,000 bodies still unburied, the danger of cholera is all too evident. Yet in many areas, government help has still not reached survivors desperate to find relatives who may still be alive beneath hundreds of tons of collapsed concrete. Even government claims that the fires which broke out at the Izmit oil refinery have been brought under control appear untrue. Bombing with water from the air looks good on television but has had no effect. Indeed, the fires are said to be spreading; yesterday, the plume of smoke above the refinery had stretched more than 30 miles down the bay of Izmit.

Public anger is being directed not only at the construction companies that jerry-built the shoddy, death-trap apartments in which so many have died but also at SuleymanDemirel, the country's President. Anger grew when it was discovered that the statement he made after Tuesday's tragedy - "the state is strong," he said, "and the earthquake's wounds will be tended to" - was identical to those he made after earlier earthquakes in Adana and Ceyhan.

When Mr Demirel set off to see the victims and their wrecked homes in Istanbul on Tuesday, his courtege blocked main roads for more than an hour, delaying many people who were desperate to leave the destroyed Avcilar area.

Still there are victims found alive amid their crumpled homes. A small boy was rescued in Golcuk yesterday, while an Austrian army rescue team found a 15-year-old girl able to talk to them from the basement of a crumpled house in Yalova.

t A British man died in the earthquake, the Foreign Office said last night. Tom Blackwood, 65, from Hertfordshire, was working for a British company at the Golcuk naval base.

Further reports, pages 12 and 13; Aftershock, Review front