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Relief speeds up to aid homeless

As Turkey's cleanup coordination improves, efforts begin to focus on

Block after block, the rubble looks much the same as it did a few days ago. Thousands of bodies remain trapped in the wreckage. But amid the continuing devastation of last Tuesday's earthquake in northwestern Turkey, there are signs that the country is beginning to come to grips with the situation.

Almost a week after the temblor hit, the country is itemizing what needs to be done. "The immediate priorities include the cleaning of the rubble, the relief operations, the establishment of temporary shelters for the homeless, and improvement of living conditions in the devastated areas," says an aide to Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.

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Many Turks, furthermore, are beginning to put into perspective an earthquake that may have killed as many as 40,000 people - and think about the safety of future buildings and the effectiveness of the current government.

One of the most urgent tasks is to provide for the some 200,000 people left homeless. Tent towns are now being established in fields, but for the time being those can accommodate only a small percentage of those in need. Plans are being made to erect prefabricated huts around Izmit, which is near the epicenter of the earthquake.

Some people are being moved to summer camps and resort centers belonging to the state sector. In addition, the authorities have appealed to private summer resorts, hotels, and motels to accommodate survivors. The initial response has been quite positive.

Many relatives and friends, moreover, are hosting loved ones from the earthquake area, and some Turks have offered to open their houses to strangers.

Yesterday, Housing Minister Koray Aydin said that after damage assessment is completed, the homeless could apply to courts to seek compensation.

Local authorities, in fact, are encouraging survivors to leave the affected areas to enable the cleanup operation to proceed more smoothly. The authorities are particularly concerned that conditions are becoming unsanitary and that diseases may spread.

Already, the relief work is better organized and coordinated. Transportation and communication services have been restored, and water, food, and other commodities are being supplied.

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Foreign relief workers - about 2,200 from more than 50 countries - have joined the efforts, which include tending to the some 33,000 injured. More Americans are expected soon, as three warships carrying 3,000 personnel make their way into Turkish waters.

Some of the foreigners who rescued trapped persons, however, are making plans to leave. They say there is not much hope of still finding survivors in the rubble.

Yet yesterday, a woman was pulled alive from the wreckage of a building in Golcuk, 131 hours after the earthquake struck.

Over the weekend, the Turkish Army - one of the region's largest, with nearly 800,000 servicemen - increased the number of soldiers in the earthquake zone.

The Army has come under fire for a lack of participation in the rescue and cleanup efforts, but officials insist the Army has been on the scene almost from the start.

"Our servicemen reached the Izmit area [near the earthquake's epicenter] in the course of 11 hours after the earthquake happened," says Gen. Huseyin Kivrikoglu, chief of general staff. "Since then our troops have been working in full coordination with the local authorities and the government."

Turks around the country have been urged to coordinate efforts as well. Yesterday, the earthquake crisis center called on citizens to donate cash and medical equipment.

The outpouring has led to a strong sense of solidarity among Turks. "We are now just like one fist [hand]," the popular Hurriyet newspaper said in a banner headline.

But the solidarity doesn't mean there isn't dissatisfaction with the state of affairs. Many have protested the lax construction standards that have resulted in some 100,000 buildings being destroyed.

Mr. Aydin, the housing minister, said yesterday that in the future, building permits would be granted only after a ground study had been completed.

Some have criticized the state for its handling of the relief effort, but most expect confidence to be eventually restored in Mr. Ecevit and his government.

"We have the strength to overcome the damage of this earthquake very soon," Ecevit said over the weekend. "We only need to trust the power of our nation and our state."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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