Blame game flares up over Van quake fiasco
Braving the cold weather and snow, the rescue teams in the quake-hit southeastern province of Van comb through rubbles. AA photo
Rescue operations continued in the eastern province of Van on Nov. 11 as the situation degraded into a blame game with no one stepping forward to claim responsibility for structural assessment reports on two hotels that collapsed when a second earthquake in two weeks struck the province.
Nineteen people, including a Japanese rescue worker, lost their lives in the 5.6-magnitude quake that hit the region on Nov. 9. Thirty people have been recovered alive from the rubble. Although authorities announced that a preliminary damage assessment report had been completed after the previous 7.2-magnitude quake that hit Van on Oct. 23, no authority so far has taken responsibility for giving a positive assessment report for the Bayram Hotel.
As Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency’s (AFAD) central office in Ankara said the AFAD office in Van may have given the report, Van officials said the opposite.
“We will start the legal process against them, no matter who they are, even if they are from the government or universities,” vowed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the opening ceremony of 111 plants at a Forestry and Waterworks Ministry facility on Nov. 11. “We are not the experts. We hire experts. We have to stick to their reports. If we don’t, then we are faced with criticism that we did not listen to them,” Erdoğan said, adding that the necessary investigations would take place.
The main opposition party put the blame on the government’s shoulders. Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chairman Akif Hamzaçebi questioned how the government would explain the deaths after the government had reassured the public that the necessary precautions had been taken.
During a press conference on Nov. 11, Hamzaçebi accused the government of “committing murder.” The government gave the impression that everything in Van was OK following the first earthquake, but the second earthquake proved that the necessary precautions had not been taken by officials, Hamzaçebi said.
“A building that was damaged in the first earthquake collapsed in the second 5.6-magnitude earthquake killing people. The government is responsible for this,” Hamzaçebi said.
The Bayram Hotel, from which seven bodies have been pulled out so far, was housing 25 people at the time of the 5.6-magnitude quake on Nov. 9. However, witnesses said the hotel was quite damaged.
“The elevator was not working and there were severe cracks in the walls,” said reporter Erkan Sevenler, who went to Van after the quake. “There were cracks on stairs as well.”
Speaking to daily Radikal, an official from AFAD’s Van branch said they have not conducted an assessment report and all files were in the central office.
Meanwhile, AFAD’s Press and Public Relations Director Mustafa Aydoğdu said they were responsible for only the coordination of events and have not done an assessment report.
As for the current situation, Erdoğan called on the locals in Van, urging them not to go back into damage buildings. “The aftershocks are continuing. Please don’t take risks,” he said.