Earthquake In Turkey: Devastation is `worst this century'

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The Independent Online
THE TURKISH government has told the UN 35,000 people are still trapped under rubble in the devastated north-west of the country. With 10,000 confirmed dead, this brings the toll from Tuesday's earthquake to more than 40,000, making it one of the world's worst earthquakes this century.

An official of Ankara's Crisis Centre declined to comment directly on the figure given by the UN, but added: "The figures are horrendous. Very many people are under the rubble. Many more than anticipated."

The second British victim of the Turkish earthquake was named last night as Lt-Cdr Jim Acton, who was 37, married, with two children and based at Portsmouth. He was injured when buildings collapsed in Golcuk, the naval base and city devastated by the quake, but died while being flown to Britain.

Some 450 British nationals thought to be living in or visiting Turkey were still unaccounted for last night. The first British victim of Tuesday's earthquake, 65-year-old Tom Blackwood, was also found in Golcuk. He had been working for the British company Marconi at the base.

International rescue workers are now being immunised against diseases such as cholera and dysentery . Health experts and politicians believe the sweltering temperatures and lack of facilities to store corpses pose the biggest threat to survivors.

"Perhaps the greatest problem now facing us is that of epidemic," the Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, said yesterday. He has been severely criticised by those saying he has not done enough to help, said yesterday. The threat of disease is emerging alongside the realisation - reported in The Independent yesterday - that the number of victims is massively more than the authorities first anticipated.

In towns such as Golcuk, which possibly suffered the most intense devastation, the air is heavy with the stench of decaying bodies, being pulled from the rubble with ever-increasing frequency. Across the entire area hit by the quake, very few people are now being found alive. Without adequate facilities to store the bodies and without enough coffins to go round, corpses are being wrapped in sheets, blankets and polythene sacks before being hurriedly buried with little ceremony

"This is not how we normally bury people," said Ali Carvrar, a retired submariner who was interring three members of his family in bulldozer- dug graves in the hills above Golcuk. "Normally there would be a proper ceremony with an Imam. There is simply no time. There are hundreds of bodies that have to be buried. They do not last long in this heat."

As he spoke bulldozers were pushing heaps of earth over the decaying corpses of a husband and wife brought up from the town in a truck. The truck headed back to collect the bodies of three other members of the same family. The heat combined with the vast number of corpses being recovered is the overpowering concern.

"There is a problem with sanitary conditions and no running water, dead bodies and heat," said Colonel Giora Martentanozits, a medic with an Israeli army detachment working in the town of Adapazari. "The sheer scale of the devastation will make it difficult to clear the sites even in weeks."

The mayor of Golcuk, Ismail Baris, who believes up to 10,000 people have died in this town alone, said everything was being done as quickly as resources would allow. "We are appealing for temporary toilet facilities and, God willing, they will arrive in the shortest time possible. All the bodies are being buried as fast as they can. I don't think we are going to have any kind of epidemic."

If the mayor's words - probably spoken in hope rather than knowledge - prove true, one of the factors in preventing the spread of disease may be the geographical scale of the devastation.

Because the quake struck parts of numerous communities spread over a wide area there is not the same concentration of homeless people one might have expected. Even so, the number of now homeless people in towns such as Golcuk and Yalova who are forced to camp out in parks and rubble-strewn sites is large and growing all the time.

The earthquake has also brought an unprecedented outpouring of sympathy by Greeks, who usually view their eastern neighbour with hostility. The government sent medical, rescue and firefighting teams, and daily shipments of humanitarian aid, including food, blankets, medicines and tents. Yesterday, the Greek foreign ministry said it was shipping 150 prefabricated houses.

Dozens of Greeks donated blood, and hundreds flocked with food, clothing and blankets to collection points in Athens. Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos of Athens will go to Istanbul next week with 1,000 tents for the homeless.The Turkish ambassador publicly thanked the people of Greece.

Foreign Minister George Papandreou said: "This has brought us closer because it essentially reminded us of something very simple - that we are people and this unites us, we are mortal."

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