As the effects and aftershocks of Sunday morning's 7.2 magnitude earthquake ravages the provinces of Ercis and Van in eastern Turkey, many local residents are calling on the Turkish government for aid. Many of the residents are nearing panic as collapsed buildings, continuous aftershocks and felled power lines combine with a feared death toll approaching one thousand, with approximately one hundred deaths confirmed thus far in the natural disaster.
The earthquake's epicenter was in Tabali, a village near the Iranian border in the eastern Van province, according to The International News Network. Reports vary on the magnitude of the earthquake, but most reports, including that of Turkey's Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, give it a 7.2 magnitude, while others give it up to a 7.6 magnitude.
Regardless of the exact magnitude of the earthquake, its force has toppled many of the buildings near the Turkey-Iran border, causing horrific casualties. Five hundred to 1,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the quake, Mustafa Erdik, director of the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute in Istanbul, told reporters.
The question on everyone's minds, however, is not why an earthquake of 7.2 to 7.6 magnitude struck Turkey.
The question, instead, is what is the Turkish government doing to help its people?
Why is the government not helping?
Earthquakes in Turkey are very common. The region is criss-crossed with geological fault lines, and minor quakes can be a daily occurrence. The worst in recent years, a 1999 earthquake that struck the Western city of Izmit, left over 17,000 dead (with some unofficial estimates numbering the dead at 35,000 to 45,000).
The Izmit earthquake was also a 7.6, and it triggered a massive international response. At the time, poorly-built housing was blamed for most of those killed, as well as for the hundreds of thousands left homeless following the natural disaster.
Nasuh Maruki, head of Turkey's search and rescue organization, said he and his staff were much better prepared for the 2011 earthquakes in Van and Ercis than they were for the 1999 earthquake in Izmit. He admitted, however, that poorly designed buildings continued to be a significant problem, accounting for many of the casualties.
They will all have to be straightened to withstand earthquakes, Maruki said, or they will have to be demolished and built from scratch.
The mountainous region of Van is still known for shoddy construction and lax regulation of building standards, according to The Guardian. TRT, a state-run television service, reports some 80 buildings have already collapsed in Ercis, including a student dormitory. At least ten buildings have been toppled by the quake in the city of Van, with many of the dead and wounded buried under the ruins.
Hospitals in Ercis report approximately 1,000 possible casualties, with the wounded pouring in at every minute and at least 45 confirmed dead. An exact death toll will be long in coming, though estimates still range in the hundreds.
Ercis' mayor, Zulfukar Arapoglu, said that many buildings had been badly damaged by the quake. Due to the risk of aftershocks, dozens of which are currently destabilizing the area, Arapoglu called for help with shelter, an urgent need in the area.
There are so many dead. ... There is too much destruction, Arapoglu told the Associated Press. We need urgent aid. We need medics.
Van, some 5,720 feet above sea level, and with temperatures that can fall deeply below freezing, is also in dire need of support. Shelter is the most crucial need. Despite the urgent calls for support, however, locals say no help has been coming.
It's ridiculous that there's not a single tent here, a survivor told NTV television. There is no water, no bread. It's not even clear who runs the operations.
We only want the government to rescue the people trapped inside the collapsed buildings, said the earthquake survivor. Why is the government not helping?
Another man, who gave his name as Hanifi Arli, was similarly distraught at the lack of help from the Turkish government, and said there was no sign of outside help arriving. All these people are trapped under buildings, Arli said, [and] all buildings have collapsed. We have no ambulances.
Veysel Keser, the mayor of Celebibag, also reported casualties, as the death toll in the region rises by the hour. There are many people under the rubble, Keser said in an interview. People are in agony. We can hear their screams for help. We need urgent help.
The Turkish government has been occupied in Iraq, however, launching counter-offensives against the Kurdistan Workers' Party for their terrorist attacks.
Turkey's prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, is traveling to Van, which has a predominantly Kurdish population, to observe the damage, and some search and rescue teams have been deployed. No further details about Turkey's strategy for helping victims of the earthquake is currently known.
We cannot reach anybody.
International teams were dispatched to Izmit within 48 hours of the 1999 quake, and the victims of the 2011 earthquake in Ercis and Van may have to rely on international aid again. Turkey has already received offers of help from the UK, Germany and Greece. Even Israel, despite its current tension with Turkey's government, has offered aid for families of the dead and those wounded in the quake.
The U.S. also stands ready to assist Turkey in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. President Obama has been following reports of Van's natural disaster with great concern, and says that the U.S. is at the ready to assist the Turkish government. Our thoughts and prayers, Obama said, are with the brave men and women who are working to bring assistance to this stricken region.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed President Obama, noting Turkey's support as an ally in the United States' war on terror, and she pledged to help authorities in Turkey with humanitarian aid.
In the absence of professional rescue teams, however, many have not bothered to wait for the Turkish government, taking on the danger despite aftershocks, collapsing buildings and numerous felled power lines. News footage shows local residents sifting rubble with shovels, iron bars or their bare hands, trying to free people trapped beneath the wreckage.
Other areas were able to receive professional care. Some search and rescue teams have recently arrived in Van to provide electric generator lights, and six helicopters and several C-130 military cargo planes have recently arrived bearing tents, food and medical supplies. What is available, however, is far from enough.
The government was due to send satellite phones to region, but none have so far arrived.
People are panicked, Bekir Kaya, Van's mayor, told NTV television. The telecommunication services have collapsed. We cannot reach anybody.
The quake was also felt in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and several Iranian towns close to the border, but there were no reports of injuries, damages or any citizens killed in those countries.