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A worldwide rush to help Turkey

Slow local efforts are coming under criticism as foreign aid workers arrive.

Amid the rubble, Turkish volunteers heard a small cry: "Imdat ... imdat (help)." The Turkish workers directed their hammers and shovels to the voice. After two hours of careful digging, and with the assistance of two firemen, the young workers rescued Elif Sever, a young woman who had been trapped in her apartment on the outskirts of Istanbul.

Such meticulous rescues are needed by the thousands in the aftermath of Tuesday's earthquake in western Turkey. The number of people still trapped under the rubble is estimated at more than 10,000. Water, power, and food are in short supply, as are health services for treating the 21,000 injured. Thousands of people have been left homeless.

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The need is so great that Turkey's longest and bitterest foes, Greece and Armenia, have offered aid - in addition to at least 17 other countries pitching in with relief assistance.

As exhausted survivors and relatives of the victims wait among the ruins, many express at anger at the failure of authorities to act quickly. "Where is the state? Where are the rescue people and the cranes?" shouted a group of men and women in front of TV cameras in Izmit, which was near the epicenter of the 7.4-magnitude earthquake. One woman complained, "Rich people managed to hire a crane from a business firm" to clean the debris in order to find their dear ones. "What about us? Who will help us?" she asked.

Turkish authorities in the stricken cities and towns have also voiced complaints, saying they do not have the necessary resources such as vehicles, ambulances, cranes, and bulldozers. The rescue work was mainly done in the first few days by individuals including young volunteers. Many Turks struggled to save lives with their bare hands and picks and shovels.

At least 1,000 foreigners are already involved in the search-and-rescue efforts, as help has begun to trickle in from such countries as the United States, Japan, Germany, and Israel. Many teams have arrived with sniffing dogs, electronic devices, and other high-tech equipment necessary for rescue operations.

Most of the foreign teams reached disaster areas such as Izmit, Golcuk, Gebze, and Yalova on Wednesday. Yet they were able to save a few lives, and hopes to find survivors are fading.

"There is a deadly silence under the ruins," said a member of a German rescue team. "[On Wednesday] we could hear at least in a few places some noises or voices. In fact we managed to remove two wounded persons. But now as we pursue our efforts, the hopes to encounter such a signal are vanishing.... But you never know."

As of yesterday, at least 6,000 deaths were attributed to the earthquake .

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Meanwhile, some unlikely countries have answered Turkey's call for help. Greece, an old rival of Turkey, has volunteered to rush personnel, equipment, and relief material to the stricken areas - a gesture that has impressed the Turks. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and Foreign Minister Ismail Cem have talked by phone with their Greek counterparts and expressed Turkey's gratitude.

Even the government of Cyprus, which Turkey does not recognize, and neighboring Armenia, which has no diplomatic ties with the Turkish government, have offered aid.

Some of the help has come from within Turkey. The volunteers who rescued Sever, the young woman who was trapped in her crumbled apartment building, are part of AKUT, a Turkish nonprofit emergency search-and-rescue organization. The groups is made up of mostly young professionals - business executives, bankers, engineers - who each time there is a natural disaster rush to the scene on a voluntary basis. They have been especially active in regard to the earthquake and have been working with foreign rescue teams.

Large areas in western Turkey have been affected - from the outskirts of Istanbul to the Kocaeli province 100 miles away. The government has proclaimed disaster areas and has authorized local administrators to make use of all public and private resources, including cars and trucks.

Thousands of buildings have collapsed, and immediately following the earthquake many people focused on the illegal and irregular construction of buildings. But anger and criticism is now moving to the shortcomings of local authorities, and the central government in providing the necessary assistance. Many academics and newspaper commentators have joined in the popular chorus of criticism over the lack of organization and inefficiency.

One problem of far-reaching implications is the number of homeless people. Hundreds of thousands have camped out in public parks, in school gardens, and even on highway medians. Some people have homes to return to, but they have feared the possibility of more damage. More than 250 aftershocks have rattled the region.

For those whose homes have been destroyed, temporary shelters, such as tents, are springing up. "Tent cities will be set up in the worst areas," said Mr. Ecevit yesterday. "They will be able to make use of health, cleaning, and food facilities."

Still, plans have to be drawn for more stable accommodations before winter comes.

The disaster took place at a time when efforts were made to revive the Turkish economy. Before the earthquake chances for a recovery, including increased foreign investments, had seemed brighter. But Turkish economists see this event as a serious blow to Turkey's economic life, considering that the stricken area accounts for more than one-third of the nation's economic activity.

Turkey's leading business newspaper, Finansal Forum, estimated that the quake would cost the economy $25 billion. Other estimates put the cost even higher.

Many Turks have been worried the earthquake will scare tourists away from Turkey. Tourism is a major part of the country's economy, with some 10 million visitors a year. The industry was already faltering this year, however, because of the situation surrounding captured Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Many countries have promised to help Turkey in the course of reconstruction. The World Bank has pledged $120 million in new loans and said that $100 million in existing loans would be transferred to Turkey more quickly.

"This is the right time for the West to demonstrate its solidarity with Turkey," says a Western diplomat in Ankara, the Turkish capital. "The Turks have always been good to us. They deserve now our attention."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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