Clinton shielded from Turkey's frozen victims

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The Independent Online
BILL CLINTON went to see the homeless survivors of Turkey's earthquake nightmare yesterday. But he did not see the thousands in their rainswept, freezing makeshift shelters of plastic sheeting. He did not see the huddled masses in the icy streets, left in the open because there are not enough tents to cope with the aftermath of the latest quake.

Instead, the US President toured one of the most luxurious of the tent cities, 1,200 insulated family-sized units, donated by America and set up by US Marines after the August quake that left 17,000 dead.

As he arrived, rescue teams were calling off efforts to find survivors of last week's quake. That death toll has reached 547, and it is still rising.

But Mr Clinton stuck to his planned visit to America's disaster relief contribution. As he walked along the beautifully paved path, at the other end of the same camp people were crammed into pathetic home-made shelters, in freezing mud.

"I wish I had a tent like that," said Hayrettin Turkyilmaz, watching Mr Clinton tour the big green American ones. The rain hammered on Mr Turkyilmaz and the crowds around him from the grim end of the camp as they peered through the fence, straining to catch a glimpse of Mr Clinton.

"You know they only paved this path because he was coming," said Mr Turkyilmaz. "A month ago it was ankle-deep in water." He lives in a tiny camping tent with his family of five. "It's so cold," he said. "When the rain comes, it leaks." His home was destroyed in August's quake, and he thinks he will live in the tent for at least another year.

Mr Clinton, on the other side of the fence, said: "We will stay with you and work with you. And I just want to urge you to keep your spirits up, keep the smiles on your children's faces, keep helping the people who lost their loved ones in the earthquake, and know that together we will get through this to better days."

Everybody was delighted to see him. Parents had kept their children from school just to catch a glimpse of him. Mr Clinton has announced a further $1bn in loans to help Turkey recover from the latest earthquake. "America looked after us," said Mr Turkyilmaz. "Their President is here, but ours never came."

Turkey's authorities may have responded well to last week's quake, but Izmit was the victim of their terrible incompetence after August's disaster. And its people are suffering.

"Just write `tents'," said Hatice Karya. "Tell the English government to send tents." She lives with her husband and two children under plastic sheeting spread over a frame, a hopeless, inadequate imitation of a tent. Her home is still standing but it was damaged in the quake and she is too terrified to return, amid warnings of another imminent quake.

A few metres from the winter-proof American tents, Mustafa Aktas has made his own - a patchwork of canvas, plastic sheeting and binliner insulation stretched over a wooden frame. Five people were huddled inside - the youngest aged three - and rain was seeping through the sides.

"I asked them to give us a proper tent," said his wife, Hediye. "We didn't get it." Tea was boiling on an open gas stove and the flames licked perilously close to the plastic. Mr Aktas looked at the gas canister and shrugged. "It's a bomb," he said.

The State Minister Hasan Gemici said yesterday: "There is nowhere in the world to get tents. We've got the money but there are no tents to buy."