Flash floods kill at least 14 in Turkish quake zone

Published March 15, 2023
People stand at a high point looking down at the flood waters in Sanliurfa, southeastern Turkiye on March 15. — AFP
People stand at a high point looking down at the flood waters in Sanliurfa, southeastern Turkiye on March 15. — AFP

Flash floods killed at least 14 people living in tents and container housing across Turkiye’s quake-hit region on Wednesday, piling more pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of crunch elections.

Several more people were swept away by the rushing water, which turned streets into muddy rivers in areas hit by last month’s 7.8-magnitude quake, officials said.

More than 48,000 people died in Turkiye and nearly 6,000 in Syria in the February 6 disaster, the region’s deadliest in modern times.

Hundreds of thousands of Turkish quake survivors have been moved into tents and container homes across the disaster region, which covers 11 provinces across Turkiye’s southeast.

Torrential rains hit the area on Tuesday and the weather service expects them to last until late Wednesday.

Turkish officials said the floods killed 12 people in Sanliurfa, about 50 kilometres north of the Syrian border.

Two people, including a one-year-old, also died in nearby Adiyaman, where five remain unaccounted for.

Images showed the waters sweeping away cars and flooding temporary housing set up for earthquake victims.

In one viral video, a man dressed in a beige suit and tie reaches out for help while floating down a surging stream alongside a piece of furniture. His fate remains unknown.

Other images showed people pulling victims out of the water with branches and rope.

The Sanliurfa governor’s office said the flooding also reached the ground floor of one of the region’s main hospitals.

Pressure on Erdogan

Facing a difficult re-election on May 14, Erdogan is confronting a furious public backlash over his government’s stuttering response to the biggest natural disaster of his two-decade rule.

Erdogan has issued several public apologies while also stressing that no nation could have dealt quickly with a disaster of such scale.

Erdogan has spent the past few weeks touring the region, meeting survivors and promising to rebuild the entire area within a year.

“By the end of next year, we will build 319,000 houses,” Erdogan told his ruling party members on Wednesday in a parliamentary address.

“Beyond the search and rescue, emergency aid and temporary shelter we have provided so far, we have a promise to our nation to restore the cities destroyed in the earthquake within a year,” he said.

Erdogan dispatched his interior minister to the flooded region to oversee the government’s response.

“Currently, we have 10 teams composed of 163 people doing search and rescue work across a 25km stretch,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters.

“We also have divers. But the weather conditions are not allowing us to do much,” he said.

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