The Commercial Appeal
Sorrow turns to tension over response to quake
Victims’ families criticize delays in rescue efforts
ANTAKYA, Turkey – Six days after a massive earthquake killed more than 28,000 in Syria and Turkey, sorrow and disbelief are turning to anger and tension over a sense that there has been an ineffective, unfair and disproportionate response to the historic disaster.
Many in Turkey express frustration that rescue operations have proceeded painfully slowly, and that valuable time has been lost in the narrow window for finding people alive beneath the rubble.
Others, particularly in the southern Hatay province near the Syrian border, say that Turkey’s government was late in delivering assistance to the hardesthit region for what they suspect are both political and religious reasons.
In Adiyaman, southeastern Turkey, Elif Busra Ozturk waited outside the wreckage of a building Saturday where her uncle and aunt were trapped and where the bodies of two of her cousins had already been found.
“For three days, I waited outside for help. No one came,” she said.
At the same building complex, Abdullah Tas, 66, said he had been sleeping inside a car near the building where his son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren were buried. He said that rescuers had first arrived four days after the earthquake struck. The Associated Press could not independently verify his claim.
The sentiment that not enough is being done to free people’s buried family members has taken hold in other parts of the earthquake zone as well. In the
ancient city of Antakya, a crush of onlookers stood behind police tape on Saturday to watch as bulldozers clawed at a high-rise luxury apartment building that had toppled onto its side.
Over 1,000 residents had been in the 12-story building when the quake struck, according to family members who were watching the recovery effort. Hundreds were still inside, they said, but complained that the effort to free them had been slow and unserious.
“This is an atrocity; I don’t know what to say,” said Bediha Kanmaz, 60, whose son and 7-month-old grandson had already been pulled dead out of the building – locked in an embrace – and whose daughter-in-law was still inside.
Kanmaz blamed Turkey’s government for the slow response and accused the national rescue service of failing to do enough to recover people alive. She and others in Antakya expressed the belief that the presence of a large minority
of Alevi – an Anatolian Islamic tradition that differs from Sunni and Shia Islam and Alawites in Syria – had made them a low priority for the government, because traditionally, few Alevis vote for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party. There was no evidence, however, that the region was overlooked for sectarian reasons.
Erdogan said on Wednesday postquake efforts were ongoing across the 10 provinces hit by the quake and called allegations of no help from state institutions like the military “lies, fake slander.” He has acknowledged shortcomings.
For Kanmaz, it is both grief and anger.
“I’m angry. Life is over,” she said. “We live for our children; what matters most to us is our children. We exist if they exist. Now we are over. Everything you see here is over.”