Dispossessed living in fear of new catastrophe

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The Independent Online
THEY ARE everywhere in Bolu. On the streets, in parks, in the back of pick-up trucks, in woodsheds: 85,000 people sleeping rough, out in the desperately cold nights, the entire population of this hilltop town.

They are anywhere but indoors. Everybody is too terrified to spend the night in a building. Another one is coming, they say, another earthquake like the one that ripped through their lives on Friday.

The snow is coming too.Black clouds hover ominously overhead. If the snow comes with the people on the streets, Bolu will face a catastrophe. Already people are in serious danger from the cold.

"What can we do?" Fatmah Kaya asked. "We can't do anything. Of course we're afraid of the cold. We could get ill. But we're afraid of being killed by another quake if we go back inside."

She is living in a woodshed with her family of five. It is cramped, uncomfortable, and icy wind blows through great gaps between the planks of the wall. The block of flats that was their home is still standing a few feet away. Inside her flat on the third floor you could feel the building swaying with small aftershocks. The quake has opened enormous vertical cracks in the end wall, wide enough to push a finger in. No one in their right mind would sleep in there.

Baki Kulioglu is sleeping in the open with his family of four. "I've got no shelter, nothing to cover myself with," he said. "I can't even sleep in my car, the earthquake crushed that." It wasn't even insured. He added: "I just don't know how long I can last in the street. I could die."

They called off the last search for survivors here yesterday. The last four anyone had hope for were found dead. For now, the bodies are still in the rubble. Rescuers said the collapsed building was too dangerous to get them out.

The death toll here is 40 - terrible, but not as terrible as the hundreds in Duzce and Kaynasli. Seismologists are warning of new earthquakes all across this region.

This is a cold region, much colder than the scene of August's quake. Winter is setting in, and Bolu, perched on its mountain top, gets the worst winters of all.

Nusnet Minoglu, the regional governor, held nothing back. There was no attempt to cover up the scale of the disaster this time. "Everybody in the town is outside," he said, his face pale as he visited collapsed buildings. "We need at least 10,000 tents, and we've only got 1,000. We're working to get them here, but I don't know how many are coming."

An old man came up, shouting angrily. "Nobody has come to look after us," he said. Wasn't the state helping him? "I'm 76 years old and I'm living in a flimsy tent with no heating." He broke down in tears then, and hurried away to hide them. His dignity was all that he had left.

The Turkish authorities are not to blame this time. Turkey is facing a catastrophe on a scale that no country could cope with. Civil and military teams are working round the clock. Where the mountain road has collapsed they have built another. In Bolu, soldiers were busy putting up insulated tents. The few who get those will at least be warm.

Recep Komecoglu is sending his family away. He and his family of four, including a 14-year-old, have been living in a tiny tent that he got from a friend. But Mr Komecoglu cannot leave, he is a civil servant. Like so many others here, he cannot afford to leave Bolu and risk their jobs.

The little patch of grass where Mr Komecoglu pitched his tent is next to his damaged home. So great is the danger of falling masonry that the police won't even let people into this street, yet two families are camping here.

Irfan Erdogan, his wife and two children are the other family. The only shelter they have is a plastic sheet stretched over the pathetic pile of belongings they rescued.

"The children sleep under there at night," said Mr Erdogan. "Me, I haven't slept since the earthquake." For three nights, he has stayed awake over the two families' fire. Beside it lies a tiny pile of firewood, almost exhausted. "That was all we could find," said Mr Erdogan. "When it is finished, I don't know what we will do."