Turkey races against time to bring relief after quake

Destruction beyond belief

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged failures in the relief effort after Turkey's devastating earthquake as homeless survivors shivered in sub-zero temperatures Wednesday.
As the death toll neared 500 and complaints mounted over the speed of the relief effort, authorities were in a race against time to provide some form of shelter with snowfall expected.
After the rescue of a 16-day-old baby and her grandmother sparked scenes of joy on Tuesday, emergency teams managed to beat the odds again on Wednesday by pulling a 27-year-old woman out of the rubble of her home in the eastern town of Ercis, which took the full brunt when disaster struck on Sunday.
Gozde Bahar, a teacher, was immediately rushed to hospital after being trapped under the rubble for 66 hours.
But her rescue was a rare slice of good news as the number of body bags mounted.
The latest official death toll was 461 but the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has said that "hundreds, possibly thousands" of people are still trapped under the rubble.
And as hopes of finding more survivors receded rapidly, the complaints from those left homeless grew louder.
After the government finally agreed to accept offers of help from abroad, Erdogan admitted that there had been failings in the relief operation although he insisted things were now on track.
"We accept that there were some failures within the first 24 hours," the prime minister said in remarks on Turkish television, in particular acknowledging problems with the distribution of tents.
However he also said it was understandable that there would be teething problems given the scale of the disaster and that he had sent a number of ministers to oversee the relief efforts.
"Almost a quarter of the cabinet is there now... we have brought the situation under control in the last couple of days," he said.
There have been frequent complaints among residents of the mainly Kurdish region that the Ankara government would have acted faster if disaster had struck elsewhere.
"We did not discriminate between Turks, Kurds or Zaza people... We said that they are all our people," Erdogan said.
There was uproar among the crowds on Wednesday when they learned that the local governor's office had stopped distributing tents, instead transferring responsibility to village headmen.
"Yesterday I waited here until midnight and I received nothing. I came back this morning at 3:00 am and have been waiting since then and now the distribution is cancelled," said 29-year-old Erdal Bayram, a construction worker.
"I need a tent for myself and for my father. We made a makeshift tent to sleep under but it rained last night and the wind was blowing."
Hasan Edemem, a 31-year-old teacher, worried that the village headmen would not give priority to those most in need of shelter.
"Now they are transferring the responsibility to village headmen but I am pretty sure they will allocate the tents to their fellows," Edemem said.
On Tuesday, locals had to wait in queues stretching for hundreds of metres outside the governor's office before being handed supplies by the military police.
"We stopped the distribution because there was too much confusion here. It will start as soon as we can restore security and order," said an official in the governor's office.
While the government in Ankara initially refused outside offers of help it reversed that decision late Tuesday.
"We were not expecting such a huge demand for tents," the daily Milliyet quoted Besir Atalay, the deputy prime minister, as saying.
"When people ask for tents for 100,000 households, you cannot meet that demand."
Israel's foreign ministry said that it had been asked to help despite the recent deterioration of ties between the two countries.
Some remote villages in the worst affected Van province have received only rudimentary help so far.
In the village of Guvecli, locals said they had had to recover the bodies of their loved ones by themselves.
"We had to do it by our own means, by shovels and digging tools," Guvecli resident Ahmet Yayin said.
Residents clustered around fires to keep warm on Wednesday. Snow was forecast for later in the day.
In Gedikbulak village, only 70 tents were distributed for a population of 2,000, the NTV news channel reported. Only a few houses remained standing there.
As well as the offers of help in the relief effort from abroad, there have also been other shows of solidarity.
During his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI called on the world's Catholics to pray for those who had lost their life and "be spiritually close to many who are in distress."