Turkish leaders share pain of Van quake victims

Turkish leaders share pain of Van quake victims

Hüseyin Hayatsever ERCİŞ, Van - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish leaders share pain of Van quake victims

President Abdullah Gül visited the earthquake-hit city of Van yesterday, sharing the pain of survivors. Gül ate his lunch with citizens at a tent city in Erciş district. DHA photo

President Abdullah Gül and senior political leaders marked the first day of the Kurban Bayram yesterday with victims of the earthquake in Van, listening to complaints and inspecting the shortcomings of the relief effort.

Touring some of the worst-hit settlements, Gül said the destruction in the wake of the Oct. 23 temblor must serve as a lesson for tighter construction norms. He said the survivors’ acute problems would be solved.

Main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said people were still complaining about tent shortages and that the greatest concern was the approaching winter and joblessness.

The problems “cannot be resolved overnight. They will be overcome gradually through good planning and organization,” Gül said after he performed bayram prayers at dawn in a Van mosque, along with Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay and the head of the People’s Voice Party (HSP), Numan Kurtulmuş.

Applause erupted when Gül arrived at a Red Crescent tent city in Van, where he had breakfast with the survivors of the quake, which claimed a confirmed total of 604 lives.

“This is a time in which we should help each other more, [strengthen] our fraternal bonds and embrace together all those who are in need,” Gül said.

Gül expressed dismay at the scale of destruction in the village of Gedikbulak, where about 250 houses were razed to the ground. A local elder said their expected new homes should be suitable for the continuation of farming, yet villagers voiced concern over the coming winter.

Accompanied by Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin, Gül also visited a tent city in Erciş, the Van district which suffered the heaviest destruction and saw the greatest loss of life.

A group of children, assigned to publish a newspaper as part of recreational activities at the camp, stopped the president for an impromptu interview. Gül explained that he delayed his visit to the area so as not to hinder search-and-rescue operations. He laughed when asked whether it was him or Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who had sent the humanitarian supplies to Van. “We sent them together,” he said.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kılıçdaroğlu paid attention not to bump into Gül in Erciş, but the two still met briefly at the entrance of the camp and exchanged bayram greetings.

“It’s been some time since the earthquake but the complaints are continuing. Unemployment, in particular, is rife,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. “Shopkeepers are unable to open their businesses and say shops have been looted.”

He urged the government to declare the region a disaster zone so as to open the door for more favorable loans for reconstruction.

Also visiting Erciş, the co-chair of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, praised “the great solidarity” with the people of Van, while stressing that winter would soon make life even harder for the quake victims. “A large fund should be allocated so that the new homes are speedily built,” he said.