350,000 quake victims still freezing in tents

Frontline DUZCE, TURKEY

HER BABY daughter was burnt to death; now she stands and stares at the little patch of mud in Duzce where the infant, aged just seven months, died. Guner Demirkaynam and her husband survived Turkey's earthquake on 17 August, in which up to 17,000 people died. They survived the earthquake on 12 November, in which 675 people died. But they lost their child, Arife, here, in the muddy, freezing huddle of tents where the survivors eke out a living.

It is cold enough to turn your fingers numb in minutes. People are living in flimsy tents, designed for the summer, or pathetic shelters they have made themselves from plastic sheeting. The only way they can keep warm is to use gas heaters. Arife died when one of the heaters set fire to a tent. The blaze ripped through 14 tents in seconds.

Ms Demirkaynam kept insisting it was not her heater that started the fire. "Mine was switched off," she kept saying. "No one came to help us before. Now that my baby is dead, everyone is helping us. But what does it matter to me what life is like now? My baby is gone."

One more death among the tens of thousands from the earthquakes. But this one could have been prevented. Arife Demirkaynam was not killed by an earthquake no one could predict. She died because hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors are still living a desperate life out in the bitter winter cold.

Night-time temperatures have sunk as low as minus 8C and they are getting colder - a low of minus 34C has been recorded in this region. The International Red Cross estimates that there are at least 350,000 people living in tents in Turkey at the moment. Most have been under canvas since the first earthquake.

Only a small minority are in properly insulated winter tents, and already a second baby has died in a tent fire. "It is more than serious," says Andrei Neascu of the International Red Cross. "This is really a tragic situation." The Red Cross fears the cold will cause serious respiratory illnesses. Already, you can hear people coughing in all the tent cities. "I just hope the winter tents get there."

Although it is Ramadan, the Turkish authorities have told those in the tent cities they do not need to fast, fearing that people fasting in the cold could make themselves seriously ill. But many, like Hatice Pir, are fasting anyway. "The earthquake was a punishment from God," she says. "No one can stop us fasting."

In the town of Bolu, the snow fell. Yet Fahrettin Aymis remained in the town centre in a tent he made himself from old carpets and blankets. It looks barely big enough for one but five people sleep in there, crammed in with their belongings.

Mesut Zorla was begging for money from anyone who could still spare it. The 19-year-old was a student in Bolu, now he cannot even afford the coach fare home to his family in the unaffected south-east. Bolu is a ghost town: buildings are still standing but everybody is too afraid to sleep inside. In Duzce, the authorities moved survivors of the August quake back into damaged buildings, which collapsed in the second quake.

"We're here for the winter, but it's impossible to survive," said Ali Uzun. "We'll all die." He is living in a flimsy summer tent in central Duzce with his family of four. His friend Hayrettin Erkalep lives in the next tent with his family of five. At night he stays awake, watching the gas heater, so his children can sleep in the warmth.

The Turkish authorities are working round the clock to provide relief - but against the odds. The state has put up thousands of prefabricated houses but people will not move into them. They say if they leave the broken towns they will lose their jobs; and if they move from the ruins of their homes they will lose their belongings buried in the rubble.

Justin Huggler

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'