Turkish earthquake death toll rises to 459

Hope of finding people alive under rubble fading; residents express anger at gov't response: "The prime minister runs for help when it's Palestine."

Turkish earthquake rescue efforts 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkish earthquake rescue efforts 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ERCIS, Turkey - Rescuers pulled a two-week-old baby girl alive from a collapsed apartment block on Tuesday as they battled to find survivors of an earthquake in eastern Turkey that killed more than 400 people and made tens of thousands homeless.
The baby's mother and a grandmother were also brought out alive on stretchers to jubilant cries from onlookers who followed the dramatic rescue under cold, pouring rain.
"It's a miracle!" said Senol Yigit, the uncle of the baby, Azra, whose name means "purity" or "untouched" in Arabic. "I'm so happy. What can I say? We have been waiting for two days. We had lost hope when we first saw the building," he said sobbing.
However, hope of finding more people alive under the rubble faded with every passing hour as more bodies were found.
The death toll from Sunday's 7.2-magnitude quake rose to 459, with 1,352 injured, the Disaster and Emergency Administration said. The final count was likely to rise further as many people were still missing and 2,262 buildings had collapsed.
Thousands prepared to spend a third night in freezing temperatures in crowded tents or huddled around fires across a quake-prone region in Van province, near the Iranian border.
With the government facing criticism over shortages of tents and other relief items, Turkey requested prefabricated housing and tents from more than 30 countries, including Israel, a Foreign Ministry official told Reuters.
Many victims accused the central government of poor organisation and of being slow in delivering aid to a region inhabited mostly by minority Kurds and home to a separatist insurgency against the Turkish state. Fighting broke out among desperate victims to grab tents from overwhelmed aid workers.
Spelling more trouble for authorities, gunshots were heard as prisoners set fire to a jail and fought with guards in Van, two days after a jailbreak in which 200 were reported to have escaped in the chaos after the quake.
The ruling AK Party has apologised for distribution problems. Urgency to offer shelters was heightened by worsening weather, with the first winter snow less than a month away.
Erdogan face Kurdish dissatisfaction
Officials said 12,000 more tents would reach Van on Tuesdayfor the neediest, particularly in villages.

"Life has become hell. We are outside, the weather is cold.There are no tents," said Emin Kayram, 53, sitting by a campfirein Ercis after spending the night with his family of eight in avan parked nearby. His nephew was trapped in the debris of abuilding behind him, where rescue workers dug through the night.

"He is 18, a student. He is still stuck in there. This isthe third day but you can't lose hope. We have to wait here."

How fast Ankara manages to deliver aid and long-term reliefto the survivors might have political consequences in a regionplagued by poverty and the Kurdish insurgency, analysts said.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who won a third consecutiveterm with a strong majority in a June election, has promised topush reforms in parliament and rewrite the constitution toaddress long-time Kurdish grievances in an effort to endviolence. Erdogan travelled to the region on Sunday, andPresident Abdullah Gul has also announced plans to visit.

"If we want to win the hearts of our brothers of Kurdishorigin, we should act now. We should beat the outlawed KurdistanWorkers Party (PKK) with this approach, which is more effectivethan arms," leading analyst Mehmet Ali Birand wrote.

Fighting broke out among a crowd of around 200-300 people after a truck arrived in Van city and started handing out tentsnext to a cemetery. Women were hit and kicked as people tried toforce their way through to get access to the tents, while policetried in vain to establish order.

"There is absolutely no coordination, you have to step onpeople to get a tent," said jobless Suleyman Akbulut, 18.

"The prime minister runs for help when it'sPalestine or Somalia, sends ships to Palestine, almost goes towar with Israel for the sake of Palestinians, but he doesn'tmove a muscle when it comes to his own people," said Emrullah, ayoung man of about 18.