Grief turns indignant after Turkey earthquake disaster

“I gave her water to drink, wiped the dust off her face, said I would save her, but I couldn’t,” said angry Mahmut Boncuk beside her mother’s body under the rubble.

When an apartment building in Antakya, southeast Turkey, collapsed in an earthquake disaster, Zafer Mahmut Boncuk discovered his 75-year-old mother was still alive but trapped under tons of concrete.

Boncuk, 60, can still talk to her, grab her hand and give her water to drink. Hours passed, and he frantically searched for anyone in the city of Antakya who could help him. But despite his pleas, no one came and his mother died on February 7, the day after the earthquake.

Like many others in Turkey, his grief turned to anger over the initial response of the authorities to the disaster as well as the contractors who built the buildings that easily “collapsed like paper” in the near future. earthquake.

In Turkey, more than 29,600 people were killed, 12,141 buildings were destroyed or severely damaged after the earthquake. Neighboring Syria also recorded more than 4,500 deaths.

Boncuk’s mother’s body was removed from the rubble on February 12, nearly a week after the building collapsed. His father’s body has yet to be found.

“What if it’s your mother, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Where have you been?” Boncuk shouted beside his mother’s body.

Zafer Mahmut Boncuk screams angrily next to the body of his mother trapped in the rubble in the city of Antakya, Turkey on February 11.  Photo: AP.

Zafer Mahmut Boncuk expresses anger next to the body of his mother trapped in the rubble in the city of Antakya, Turkey on February 11. Image: AP.

“I gave her water to drink, wiped the dust off her face. I told my mother that I would save her. But I couldn’t,” the 60-year-old man said. “The last time we talked, I rubbed some water on her lips. Ten minutes later, my mother passed away.”

Boncuk said it was “apathy, lack of information and concern that caused my mother to die in front of me”.

Many in Turkey expressed similar disappointment as rescue operations were slow after the February 6 earthquake, leaving the golden period to save many lives missed.

Others, particularly in Hatay province, which borders Syria, said the government was too slow to provide assistance to the worst-affected area as soon as the quake struck.

In the town of Adiyaman, Elif Busra Ozturk waited outside the rubble of a building on February 11, where her aunt and uncle were trapped and likely dead. This is where the bodies of her two cousins ​​were found.

“For the past three days, I’ve been waiting outside for help, but no one has come. There are so few rescue teams that they’re just looking for places where they believe there are survivors,” she said.

Also in the same area, Abdullah Tas, 66, said he slept in his car near the building where his son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren were buried. Tas said that four days after the earthquake happened, the first rescue team arrived here.

“What good does that do for the people buried under the rubble?” he asked.

Many people gathered behind police barricades in Antakya on February 11, as bulldozers handled a collapsed luxury apartment building. More than 1,000 residents were sleeping in the 12-story building when the quake struck, turning expensive apartments into layers of concrete on top of each other. Neighbors said hundreds of people were still trapped inside, but complained that rescue efforts were too slow.

“I don’t know what to say. This is heartbreaking,” said Bediha Kanmaz, 60. The bodies of her 7-month-old son and grandson were pulled from the rubble, but her daughter-in-law was still buried there.

“We open each body bag to find our loved ones. Sometimes the bag we open is the bodies that are not intact,” Kanmaz said.

Kanmaz also blamed the Turkish government for being too slow to react, and accused the national rescue agency of not doing enough to rescue survivors.

President Erdogan said last week that rescue efforts were underway in all 10 affected provinces, dismissing accusations that the government had not done enough in the disaster area.

However, he acknowledged shortcomings in the rescue work. Officials said the rescue effort in Hatay was initially difficult because the airport runway and roadways were damaged by the quake.

Kanmaz also vented his anger at the negligence of the apartment building contractors. “If I can get the contractor, I’ll tear him to pieces,” she said.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on February 12 that authorities had identified 131 suspects responsible for the quality of works in 10 provinces affected by the earthquake. “We will investigate the matter thoroughly before proceeding with the necessary proceedings, especially with buildings with heavy damage causing casualties,” he said.

The contractor who built the 250-unit luxury apartment building that Kanmaz lived in was arrested at Istanbul airport on February 10, as he was about to leave the country, according to the Anadolu news agency. The contractor’s lawyer said that the public was trying to find the “scapegoat” after the disaster.

But experts say that such a high-class apartment building collapsed due to an earthquake, while the surrounding structures were still standing, the result of negligent construction and inappropriate materials. “Turkish civil engineers and architects are unqualified and unprofessional, leading to serious consequences,” said Zihni Tekin, a consultant at Istanbul Technical University.

The scene of destruction in Hatay, Turkey on February 11.  Photo: AP.

The scene of destruction in Hatay, Turkey on February 11. Image: AP.

In southern Turkey, tensions are growing. Some expressed anger that the Syrian refugees here burdened the welfare system and competed with the local population after the disaster.

“There are a lot of poor people in Hatay, but they get nothing. Aid goes to the Syrians. They give more to the Syrians. There are more Syrians than Turks here,” Kanmaz said.

There are many signs that stress may be simmering.

Two aid groups from Germany and Austria have suspended rescue work in Hatay over concerns for the safety of their staff. They only resumed work after the Turkish army was deployed to ensure the security of the area, according to a Twitter post by a spokesman for the Austrian Defense Ministry.

“Tensions are increasing between different groups in Turkey. Gunfire has been heard,” said Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Kugelweis, Austrian military spokesman. He did not specify which side opened fire.

Steven Berger, executive director of Germany’s ISAR relief group, said “it can be seen that the pain is slowly turning into outrage”.

For Kanmaz, her mood is now a mixture of grief and anger.

“I’m angry. We live for our children, because they are the most important thing to us. We only live if they live. Our life is over. Everything you see here is already gone. over,” she said.

Thanh Tam (According to AP)

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