The first heavy snows of winter piled misery on thousands of earthquake survivors in eastern Turkey on Saturday as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan visited the quake zone amid rising anger among homeless families over relief efforts.
Working in swirling snow, searchers in Van city pulled a man’s body from the ruins of the five storey Hotel Bayram, bringing the toll to 37 after the latest quake to hit the city.
Rescuers have so far found 30 people alive after Wednesday’s 5.7 magnitude tremor. Out of 22 buildings that collapsed, only two were occupied − both hotels − as most people had left their homes after a far bigger quake on Oct. 23.
Wednesday's quake was focused on Edremit town, some 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Van province, according to the Istanbul-based Kandilli Observatory.
Among the victims found since Friday evening were two journalists from Dogan News Agency −26-year-old Cem Emir and 58-year-old Sebahattin Yilmaz − who had been staying at the Bayram Hotel to cover the aftermath of the 7.2 magnitude quake that struck Van province less than three weeks earlier.
That quake killed more than 600 people and rendered tens of thousands of families homeless, with few people daring to stay in homes scarred by cracks in walls and ceilings while aftershocks still shook the region.
Erdogan made a return visit on Saturday to Ercis, a town north of Van worst hit by the first quake, having first gone hours after disaster struck.
Jeers and cheers
Addressing a rally in the stricken town, once home to nearly 100,000 people, Erdogan was met with a mix of applause and jeers as he called for unity between the people and authorities working to provide relief.
Chants of “We want tents” could be heard as he began speaking, but there were cheers when he spoke of financial aid.
Erdogan promised permanent housing would be provided for the majority of those needing new homes by August next year, before pleading with people to enter tent camps established to see them through the winter.
Police had fired tear gas to break up a protest in Van city on Thursday by a group of 200 men, angered by the way tents had been distributed and calling for the provincial governor to be replaced.
Erdogan, in comments late Friday, had dismissed the protesters in scathing terms.
“None of these people have contributed to efforts to remove the effects of earthquake,” he said.
“I say this loud and clear. These people are not quake victims. They are just provocateurs who try to sabotage the process here. They are not quake victims.”
The government is sensitive to criticism, particularly as Van is a mainly Kurdish region. Turkey is fighting a long-running Kurdish separatist insurgency, but Erdogan has sought to reach out to ordinary Kurds and increase their rights.
The authorities have established tent cities, where sanitation and relief are more easily provided, but still many families complain they have no tents and are left fending for themselves.
Some tent camps were still being prepared, but there were also empty tents in some of those already opened.
There has been an exodus from the region, but some families have shunned camps for fear of leaving their homes unguarded against looters.