Deadly Turkish Earthquake Triggers Violent Protest

ANKARA, Turkey, May 2, 2003 (ENS) - A violent earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter Scale rocked Turkey's eastern Bingol Province on Thursday leaving 126 people dead and some 1,000 others injured in the city of Bingol.

Approximately 70 children remain trapped under the rubble of the collapsed Celtiksuyu Boarding School in Bingol. Rescuers struggled all day to reach them, but hope for survivors is fading, although crews continue to dig into the rubble through the night, working under floodlights. About 40 children died in the first hours of the collapse, and 117 have been rescued alive.

Townspeople are angry that more help has not been forthcoming from provincial government authorities, and about 1,000 people demonstrated in front of the governor's office this morning, demanding the governor's resignation and throwing stones. Police fired into the air to disperse them. Several people were injured and dozens were arrested.

After the riot, Chief of Bingol Police Osman Nuri Ozdemir was fired from his post by the Interior Ministry for ordering his officers to shoot into the air.


Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (Photo credit unknown)
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who visited Bingol on Thursday, blamed "provocateurs" for the demonstration. "I call on the people of Bingol to be more calm and sensitive," he said.

Bingol city has a population of 60,000 and there are 250,000 people living within a 50 kilometer (30 mile) radius of the quake's epicenter. Assessments in some of the surrounding areas are being carried out, and authorities say the death toll could rise when the situation in outlying villages becomes known.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is appealing for 2,384,000 Swiss francs (US$1.77 million) to support the emergency relief operation launched by the Turkish Red Crescent (Kizilay). The Turkish aid organization says the funds will go to help 36,000 quake victims.

The funds will be used to purchase tents, blankets, medicines, food supplies for mobile kitchens, and other emergency relief goods, says the IFRC. The money will also support the Turkish Red Crescent Psychosocial program, in order to help survivors deal with the pain and grief of losing loved ones.


Bingol in south central Turkey (Photo courtesy Bingol)
The Turkish Red Crescent headquarters and provincial branches have dispatched medical teams, 3,200 tents, 13,700 blankets, five metric tons of food, seven mobile kitchens, a field hospital and a mobile clinic, four ambulances and five generators to the quake zone.

More than 50 Kizilay volunteers and staff are on site, working in collaboration with Civil Defence rescuers.

The coming days will be demanding on Red Crescent resources as thousands of homeless people will desperately need help. We are hoping the international community will respond generously to the needs of the traumatized victims of this horrible disaster, said Lynette Lowndes, head of the Europe Department in the Federations Secretariat in Geneva.

Turkey is a tectonically active region that experiences frequent destructive earthquakes. This earthquake occurred 70 kilometers southeast of a magnitude 6.1 earthquake that killed one person and injured several in the Pulumar area on January 27, 2003.

Thursday's quake occurred within or near the source region of the magnitude 6.6 earthquake which struck on March 13, 1992, killing hundreds of people and leaving thousands homeless in Erzincan. In 1939 Erzincan was hit by a magnitude 8.0 earthquake that killed an estimated 33,000 people. Erzincan is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) to the northwest of the epicenter of Thursday's earthquake.