Thousands homeless as search continues for Turkish quake survivors

Residents of hard-hit city on southwestern coast express concern over building safety.

Rescue workers in Izmir, Turkey, are shown on Saturday removing a person who was trapped and injured in Friday’s earthquake. (photo credit: COURTESY CHP)
Rescue workers in Izmir, Turkey, are shown on Saturday removing a person who was trapped and injured in Friday’s earthquake.
(photo credit: COURTESY CHP)
Thousands of people are believed to be homeless in Turkey’s third largest city, Izmir, after an earthquake slammed the country’s southwestern coast, killing at least 49.
The homeless include those whose buildings were destroyed or damaged, as well as others too afraid to sleep at home, said Sener Akdemir, the vice president of the Izmir branch of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), to which the city’s mayor belongs.
“They are searching [for] the people under the buildings and making tents for the people who are homeless now because they are afraid,” Akdemir told The Media Line.
“A lot of buildings are [damaged], so [that means] maybe 2,000 people, 3,000 people, maybe more,” he said.
Some of those buildings were cracked, while others were left leaning. The government is providing food for these people, he added.
Friday’s temblor also left at least two people dead in Greece. The overall could climb because many are missing.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted on Sunday that a 70-year-old man had been dug out of the wreckage.
At least 20 buildings were reported to have been destroyed. A small tsunami triggered by the earthquake flooded the streets of Izmir, and footage showed waves dragging boats into the Aegean Sea.
The government said the quake measured 6.6 on the Richter Scale, while Istanbul’s Kandilli Institute, which specializes in geological matters, said it was 6.9. The US Geological Survey said the magnitude was 7.0.
Izmir Mayor Tunç Soyer said on Saturday that 180 people were trapped under collapsed buildings. More than 900 were injured, including more than 240 who were hospitalized, according to the national government.
Social media users have been posting photos of the missing and pleading for help in finding them.
On Saturday, Erdogan thanked countries that offered support, including Israel and Greece, which are among the nations having strained relations with Ankara.
Burak Tatari, a journalist who was in Cesme, 50 miles from Izmir, said he was working at his desk when the quake struck.
"When it began to shake, I couldn’t even move. Our dog [was] scared and ran to me. Objects fell. Some glasses broke,” he wrote in an email to The Media Line. 
Tatari, who saw damage to his walls, called his grandparents in Izmir.
“My grandfather told me that this was the greatest earthquake he had ever witnessed and he prayed [to] Allah because he felt that they were about to die,” Tatari said.
Yusuf Gurkan, 19, says he is too frightened to return to Izmir. While his family lives there, he was in Istanbul, where he studies industrial engineering.
“Everyone is fine, but everyone was so scared,” Gurkan told The Media Line.
A member of the Jewish community, he said most of the buildings were intact but damaged in the two Izmir districts where most Turkish Jews live. 
“In our area they are cracked; even in our home they are cracked,” he said.
Gurkan says the Jewish community normally offers help in such crises. He was told that people didn’t have time to organize relief efforts yet would offer donations.
He said this earthquake was much bigger than the one he experienced in the city a couple of years ago.
“It wasn’t this big, and none of the people were this afraid,” he said of the previous quake.
“If it can happen in Izmir, it can happen in Istanbul, too,” he stated. “I think that Izmir is actually safer than Istanbul because of the structure of the buildings.”
Fault lines run through Turkey, making it prone to earthquakes. In January, a temblor killed 41 people in the eastern part of the country. An earthquake west of Istanbul in 1999 killed more than 17,000.
Scientists are expecting a quake of a magnitude seven or more to happen within 20 years in Istanbul.
Critics say Erdogan's fast-paced, widespread development of Istanbul, as well as poor urban planning, has endangered people and taken away open space where they might go to safety in an earthquake.
It is feared that the damage would be much greater if a quake struck Istanbul, the country’s largest city.
Akdemir says it will be difficult to rebuild because the economy is weak. The high unemployment rate means lower tax revenues for the government. 
“It’s hard to find money for the local government to [fix] the buildings. We have to [rebuild] so many buildings now,” he said. “We have COVID-19, and now the earthquake, so it’s not easy to protect people,” he said.
The government has introduced updated codes for buildings to withstand earthquakes. Officials say new construction will ensure that more buildings meet these codes.
In early October, the interior minister said the government had made plans to respond to quakes and help prevent damage.
“All studies, strategies and solutions concerning disasters lead to the same point, which is the construction of safe buildings. If we fail to build safe buildings, disaster management strategies and response activities will not be enough to eliminate the harm of earthquakes," Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said.
Turkey's justice minister reportedly said there would be legal repercussions if experts found neglect in collapsed buildings. On Saturday, the government said it spent nearly $360,000 on relief efforts.
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