October 24, 2011 / 4:46 PM / in 6 years

Destitute Turkish quake survivors cram into tents

ERCIS/VAN, Turkey (Reuters) - The six-storey apartment block where 17-year-old Veysel Aydinoglu lived with his parents and sister did not collapse when the deadly earthquake hit southeast Turkey on Sunday, it was just left leaning to one side.

They are now staying in a tent, one of 5,000 the Turkish Red Crescent has delivered to Ercis for those who have lost their homes or are too frightened to return to them because of the frequent aftershocks that jolt the town 24 hours later.

No one living in Aydinoglu’s building was injured by the 7.2 magnitude quake, unlike the residents of nearby apartment blocks who are still missing, feared crushed under the wreckage of their homes.

For his family, relief at escaping from their swaying block was mixed with trepidation at the prospect of a lengthy stay in one of 100 tents pitched on an artificial soccer pitch, living on food handouts from the relief agency.

“We can’t live like this,” he says, pointing at the tent. “We will probably go and stay with our relatives in Manisa.”

The Red Crescent said in a statement that tent cities had been set up at Ercis stadium and near the main road to Van.

The agency has taken a lead role, as it has done after previous quakes in Turkey and places like Pakistan and Haiti, and in handling thousands of refugees who fled violence in neighboring Iraq, and more recently Syria.

A woman, one of a crowd of survivors watching rescue teams trying to reach people trapped under a collapsed building in the provincial capital Van, sobbed as she spoke of a missing aunt and cousin, and the loss of her family home.

“All our homes are damaged. We are staying in the youth sports center,” she said, breaking down in tears.

At least they have some shelter against the cold nights.


The emergency services’ priority was getting relief rapidly to Ercis and Van, but people in villages scattered among the hills north and east of Lake Van, Turkey’s largest lake, were largely left waiting as night-time temperatures dropped sharply.

A Red Crescent spokesman said up to 13,000 tents had been sent to the quake zone, each big enough for four people, and the agency was preparing to house as many as 40,000, though it was impossible to tell how many would need shelter at this stage.

A Reuters journalist who visited around 20 villages north of Van a day after the quake reported that most had no tents.

At the lakeside village of Dagonu Koyu, home to a traditional herding community, families were allocated 20 extra-large round tents.

“We have to fit 37 people in one tent, every 3 homes were given a tent,” said 29-year-old villager Giyasettin Celen. Fifteen people in the village were killed when their mud-walled homes collapsed. Celen lost three of his family, and was sickened at the way the bodies were removed.

“Our lost ones were carried like animals, on top of each other, in a transport van,” he said.

While the villagers had at least temporary shelter, Celen was worried that the family would have to sell the livestock they depended on, as their barns had been destroyed and the animals would not survive the harsh winter in the open.

In Alakoy village, some 20 km from Van city, where around 1,000 people had lived, only 40 of 140 homes were left intact, though only nine people died.

“If it had happened at night, at least 200 people would have died,” said Mustafa Seles, an 87-year-old ethnic Kurd, whose house was demolished by the quake.

“We can’t go back because we are afraid,” said his daughter-in-law, Fatma Seles, wearing a village-style headscarf and speaking broken Turkish.

“We are waiting for tents. We’ve got small children. They are distributing food but we couldn’t get any yet. We are staying on open land.”

Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Tim Pearce

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