Looting and hygiene concerns are an additional burden for rescue workers in Turkey
By Ali Kucukocmen
ANTAKYA, Turkey (Reuters) – Volunteers struggling to find fewer and fewer survivors in Turkey’s earthquake-hit city of Antakya said on Saturday looting and sanitation problems were adding to their daunting task.
A resident searching for a colleague buried in a collapsed building said he witnessed looting in the first few days after Monday’s quake, before leaving the city for a village.
“People smashed the windows and fences of shops and cars,” said Mehmet Bok, 26, who is now back in Antakya searching for a work colleague in a collapsed building.
German aid organizations suspended rescue operations in the quake region on Saturday, citing safety concerns and reports of crowd clashes and gunfire.
Turkish authorities have not commented on the unrest, but President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday the government would take firm action against looters and other criminal behavior, noting that a state of emergency had been declared.
The death toll in Turkey and Syria has exceeded 25,300.
Another rescuer, Gizem from the southeastern province of Sanliurfa, said she also saw looters in the four days she was in Antakya.
“We can’t intervene much since most of the looters carry knives. They caught a looter today, people were chasing him,” she said in the city, which has had a heavy police and military presence directing traffic, helping rescuers and distributing food.
When she arrived, she described Antakya as a place of death and destruction. “We couldn’t hold back our tears,” she said as the ambulance sirens blared in the background.
“If people don’t die under the rubble here, they die from injuries, if not, they die from infection. There is no toilet here. That’s a big problem,” she said, adding that there weren’t enough corpse bags for all the dead.
“The bodies are lying all over the streets, covered only with blankets.”
The townspeople wore masks to cover the smell of death.
Others raised concerns about hygiene, particularly the insufficient number of working toilets.
There were long lines at temporary portable toilets, but many people said they just found a hidden spot, prompting complaints of stench.
“I think what is most needed right now is hygiene products. We have toilet problems, I’m afraid of spreading disease,” said a man who did not want to be named and who had traveled from Antalya to help with rescue operations.
He said there was little coordination, everyone was doing what they could to save lives and some collapsed buildings on side streets were still untouched.
“We dig for hours,” he said, describing how overnight he pulled alive from the rubble a 56-year-old woman, her face covered in dust, who had fallen down the stairwell of an apartment building.
“We pulled out about 150 to 200 bodies.”
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler and Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)