Turkey quake kills at least 279, hundreds missing [UPDATE]


[UPDATE: 10:43 a.m.]

Rescuers searched the rubble of collapsed buildings Monday for survivors and victims of a major earthquake that killed at least 279 people and injured more than 1,300 in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey.

Rescue and relief efforts focused on the city of Van and the town of Ercis, 100 km (60 miles) to the north, but hundreds were also feared dead in remote villages of mud-brick houses after Sunday’s 7.2 magnitude quake, Turkey’s strongest in a decade.

Desperate survivors cried for help beneath heaps of smashed concrete and twisted metal, some using mobile phones to tell friends they were alive, as earth-moving machines and troops raced against time in Van and Ercis.

Thousands of people made homeless by the quake were forced to spend a second night outdoors in the hilly, windswept Van region, enduring near-freezing temperatures. Families huddled round open fires that glowed in the dark. Some stayed in tents put up on soccer pitches, living on handouts from aid agencies.

The U.N. disaster agency said almost 1,000 buildings had collapsed, many of them poorly built. A Red Crescent spokesman said the agency was preparing to provide refuge for as many as 40,000 people, though it was so far impossible to tell how many would need shelter.

Some residents of Van and outlying villages complained of a lack of government assistance, despite the dispatch of troops, mobile kitchens and up to 13,000 tents.

“We have to fit 37 people in one tent,” said Giyasettin Celen, a 29-year-old who lost three family members in Dogonu Koyu, a village beside Lake Van where he said 15 people died.

“Our lost ones were carried like animals, on top of each other, in a transport van. Our main source of income here is livestock breeding, but we don’t have anywhere to keep them. We will have to sell them now,” he said.

Throughout the day, rescue workers pulled people out alive.

“Be patient, be patient,” rescuers in Ercis told a whimpering boy pinned under a concrete slab with the lifeless hand of an adult, a wedding ring on one finger, visible just in front of his face.

A Reuters photographer saw a woman and her daughter being freed from beneath a concrete slab in the wreckage of a six-storey building.

“I’m here, I’m here,” the woman, named Fidan, cried out hoarsely. Talking to her regularly while working for more than two hours to find a way through, rescuers cut through the slab, first sighting the daughter’s foot, before freeing them.

In Van, an ancient city of one million on a lake ringed by snow-capped mountains, cranes shifted rubble from a collapsed six-storey apartment block where 70 people were feared trapped.

One woman, standing beside a wrecked four-storey building, told a rescue worker she had spoken to her friend on her mobile phone six hours after the quake trapped her in the wreckage.

“She’s my friend and she called me to say that she’s alive and she’s stuck in the rubble near the stairs of the building,” said her friend, a fellow teacher. “She told me she was wearing red pajamas,” she said, standing with distraught relatives begging the rescue workers to hurry.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan flew to Van to assess the scale of the disaster. It is a quake-prone area that is a hotbed of activity for Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

Erdogan said he feared for the fate of villages with houses made of mud brick, saying: “Almost all buildings in such villages are destroyed.”

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the death toll had reached 279, with 1,300 injured, and more were unaccounted for.

The quake brought fresh torment to impoverished southeast Turkey, where PKK militants fighting a decades-long insurgency killed 24 Turkish troops south of Van last week.

The area it struck, near the border with Iran, is remote and mountainous, with long distances between villages and people who live off stock-raising, arable farming and trading.

The hardest-hit town was Ercis, a town of 100,000, where 55 buildings crumpled, including a student dormitory.

At one collapsed four-storey building, firemen from the major southeastern city of Diyarbakir were trying to reach four missing children. Aid workers carried two large black bags, one apparently containing a child’s body, to an ambulance. An old woman wrapped in a headscarf walked alongside sobbing.

A distressed man paced back and forth before running toward the rescue workers on top of the rubble. “That’s my nephew’s house,” he sobbed as workers tried to hold him back.

The Red Crescent has delivered 5,000 tents to Ercis alone and a tent city has been set up at Ercis stadium. But residents said tents were being given only to relatives of police and soldiers, a possible source of tension if confirmed.

“The villages have not received any help yet. Instead of making a show, politicians should be visiting them. The Turkish military says they sent soldiers, where are they?” said a municipality official in Van who did not want to be named.

Ibrahim Baydar, a 40-year-old tradesman from Van, accused the government in Ankara of holding back aid. “All the nylon tents are in the black market now. We cannot find any. People are queuing for them. No tents were given to us whatsoever.”

Rescue efforts were hampered by power outages after the quake toppled electricity lines to towns and villages.

More than 200 aftershocks have jolted the region since the quake, lasting around 25 seconds, struck at 1041 GMT Sunday.

“I just felt the whole earth moving and I was petrified. It went on for ages. And the noise, you could hear this loud, loud noise,” said Hakan Demirtas, 32, a builder who was working on a construction site in Van at the time.

“My house is ruined,” he said, sitting on a low wall after spending the night in the open. “I am still afraid, I’m in shock. I have no future, there is nothing I can do.”

The Red Crescent said about 100 experts had reached the earthquake zone to coordinate rescue and relief operations. Sniffer dogs had joined the quest for survivors.

Major geological fault lines cross Turkey, where small tremors occur almost daily. Two large quakes in 1999 killed more than 20,000 people in the northwest.

The quake had no impact on Turkish financial markets when they opened Monday.

In Van, construction worker Sulhattin Secen, 27, said he had at first mistaken the rumble of the quake for a car crash.

“Then the ground beneath me started moving up and down as if I was standing in water. May God help us. It’s like life has stopped. What are people going to do?”

Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia, Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler; Editing by Tim Pearce

Turkey rejects earthquake aid offers, including Israel’s


Turkey has rejected all international aid, including an Israeli offer, in the wake of a strong earthquake that collapsed buildings and left hundreds dead.

Sunday’s temblor, which measured 7.3 on the Richter scale and was centered in southeastern Turkey, was felt in central Tel Aviv, Haaretz reported. At least 239 people are confirmed dead, with many others reportedly trapped in collapsed buildings.

“The State of Israel shares in your sorrow following the earthquake that has claimed victims from among your people,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said Sunday in a call to Turkish President Abdullah Gul.  “I speak as a man, as a Jew and as an Israeli who remembers, and is well aware of, the depth of the historic relations between our two peoples and thus I send the condolences of the entire nation to the families of those who lost their lives.  At this difficult time, the State of Israel is ready to render any assistance that may be required anywhere in Turkey, at any time.”

Gul thanked Peres for the telephone call, the expression of condolences and the offer of assistance, according to the president’s office, and said that he hoped Turkish search and rescue could handle the emergency alone. Diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey are now nearly nonexistent.

Israel’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Minister had been in contact with Turkish officials Sunday in order to offer assistance. An Israel Defense Forces search and rescue delegation is prepared to leave for Turkey if it is called upon, according to reports.

Diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated since nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American dual citizen, were killed in May 2010 during an Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the deaths and compensation to the victims’ families.

Israel has offered its “regret” for the deaths, and has said that its naval commandos fired in self-defense. Relations had been going downhill since the 2008-09 Gaza war.

Turkey sent several firefighting airplanes to Israel last December to help battle the massive Carmel Forest fire.

Netanyahu offers quake aid to Turkey


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to offer condolences for those killed in a devastating earthquake and said the Jewish state was ready to help, officials of both countries said.

Relations between Israel and Turkey have been frayed since Israeli commandos killed nine Turks during a raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip in 2010.

Sources at Erdogan’s office said Netanyahu reminded Erdogan that Turkey sent fire-fighting planes in December last year to help Israel battle a brush fire that killed 41 people and said Israel was now ready to help Turkey.

At least 279 people were killed and more than 1,300 wounded when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey on Sunday.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the call between the two men took place.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his condolences to the victims of the terrible earthquake and offered Israel’s help in dealing with the tragedy. The Turkish prime minister thanked him for his words and for his offer to help,” the official said.

It was too early to know if the exchange would lead to a rapprochement. Turkey has demanded Israel apologise and pay compensation for the killings and lift the blockade on Gaza as a condition to normalise ties with its former strategic ally.

Tensions between the two U.S. allies rose last month when Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel refused to apologise and said its marines acted in self-defence in clashes with pro-Palestinian activists on one of the vessels.

Israel has sent rescue teams to quake-prone Turkey in the past after earthquakes struck.

Turkey has received offers of assistance from countries as far as China and Pakistan but so far has accepted aid only from Iran and Azerbaijan.

Earlier on Monday, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc denied Turkey had declined an offer of aid from Israel.

“Our ties with Israel may not be at desired levels, but it’s out of the question to refuse humanitarian offers,” Arinc told a news conference.

“Turkey is thankful and respects all countries who offered help,” he said, but cautioned that “if aid from all countries arrived in Van it would be chaos”.

Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Michael Roddy and Roger Atwood

Netanyahu pledges support to Japan


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered “any assistance” and stated that the “citizens of Israel stand beside you at this difficult time” in a letter to his Japanese counterpart, Naoto Kan. 

Netanyahu expressed his “deep sorrow” over the tragic earthquake and tsunami that recently struck the country, writing that Israel was prepared to help in any way needed in the disaster area. 

“I have no doubt that the strength and heroism displayed for the Japanese people will help overcome this terrible tragedy,”  said Netanyahu.

So far the Japanese have not requested help from Israel despite Israel’s offer of assistance immediately after the earthquake hit.

Jewish groups mobilizing response to massive Japan earthquake and tsunami


Japan earthquake relief: How you can help

Jewish organizations are mobilizing their responses to the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on Friday.

IsraAid, an Israel-based coordinating organization for 17 Israeli and Jewish humanitarian groups, said Friday that it has two teams of rescue personnel, emergency medical officers and water pollution specialists ready to deploy to Japan but was looking for ways to reach the affected area.

Because the airports in the affected area are flooded and Tokyo-area airports closed on Friday, IsraAid said it was exploring the possibility of flying to a nearby country and then trying to make it to northeast Japan, where the tsunami has killed hundreds and devastated cities and towns.

“We’re in touch with local groups to check the situation in the area,” Shachar Zahavi, chairman of the group, told JTA in a telephone interview. “We’re trying to get to the closest airport and then get to the affected area from there.”

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement reported that its emissary in Tokyo said the Jewish community there largely was spared any serious injury or damage from the 8.9-magnitude quake that rocked the city Friday morning.

ZAKA, the Orthodox-led rescue and recovery organization, announced Friday that it would send a search-and-rescue team to Japan as soon as Shabbat in Israel ended on Saturday night.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would help in whatever way possible.

The Japanese consul in Israel, Mitoshiko Shinomya, told the Israeli news webstie Ynet that he was heartened by the Israeli government’s offer of assistance. “Israel officially offered its help an hour after the earthquake struck,” Shinomya said. “It is very heart-warming, but at this point we do not know exactly what the extent of the damage is, so it is difficult for us to say what can be done.”

The Jewish Federations of North America is setting up an emergency relief fund to help those in affected areas, a spokesman said, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a federation partner, opened a mailbox Friday for donations to be used for Japan/Pacific disaster relief. Donations can be made at https://jdc.org/donation/donate.aspx.

“JDC is now conducting an up-to-the-minute assessment of the situation in Japan and the Pacific Rim and has activated its network of partners to determine critical, immediate needs of the hardest-hit areas,” the organization said in a statement Friday.

A spokesman for American Jewish World Service, which played a leading Jewish role in responding to the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated parts of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, said it would not be responding to the Japan tsunami because AJWS, which works in the developing world, does not have any partner organizations in Japan.

Japan earthquake relief: How you can help


In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Japan, the organized Jewish world is lining up support for the rescue and relief effort in the region.

Here are ways you can help:

” title=”American Joint Distribution Committee” target=”_blank”>American Joint Distribution Committee
You may give by mail or phone:
Check payable to JDC, please specify the program name
Attn: JDC
P.O. Box 530
132 East 43rd Street
New York, NY 10017
(212) 687-6200

” title=”Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago” target=”_blank”>Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago


For more information on how you can help visit ” title=”Jewish groups mobilizing response to massive Japan earthquake and tsunami” target=”_blank”>Jewish groups mobilizing response to massive Japan earthquake and tsunami

Jewish organizations are mobilizing their responses to the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on Friday.

IsraAid, an Israel-based coordinating organization for 17 Israeli and Jewish humanitarian groups, said Friday that it has two teams of rescue personnel, emergency medical officers and water pollution specialists ready to deploy to Japan but was looking for ways to reach the affected area.

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