VAN, Turkey (Reuters) - Riot police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse protesters angry at the state’s relief efforts after the second earthquake in eastern Turkey in three weeks killed at least 12 people in the city of Van.
Rescue teams searched for survivors after the 5.7 magnitude tremor on Wednesday night heaped misery on the predominantly Kurdish region where more than 600 people died following a major quake on October 23.
“How can you fire pepper spray on people who have already suffered so much?” said Abdulrahim Kaplan, 32. He had gone to the crisis centre for a tent when police began firing tear gas, he said.
“Our people are freezing. We are sleeping outside -- all seven of my family ... Some people take five tents, some 10 and others get nothing. This is wrong.”
Thousands of families are living in makeshift camps with temperatures falling to freezing with the onset of winter. The government says there are enough tents for anyone who needs them.
About 200 demonstrators called for the resignation of the provincial governor in a rally close to two city centre hotels that collapsed during the latest quake.
“We are urging the earthquake survivors to lodge in the tent cities. We think it is safer and we have enough place for everybody who wants to stay at the tent city,” Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay, told Reuters later.
“Preparations are underway for more tents,” said the minister, who is overseeing relief operations and had visited the site of the collapsed hotels earlier.
Working through the night, searchers had rescued 28 people from the ruins of the hotels, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Administration (AFAD) said in a statement.
Two of those brought out, including a 16-month-old toddler, were flown by air ambulance to a hospital in the capital Ankara.
Rescue workers pulled a Japanese woman from the rubble of the Bayram Hotel almost six hours after the quake but a Japanese doctor succumbed to his injuries, state-run Anatolian news agency reported.
The woman, Miyuki Konnai, was part of a rescue and relief team sent to Van from Japan after the first quake. She was found injured but conscious and could be seen talking to her rescuers as she was carried to an ambulance.
The slightly built 32-year-old woman told Reuters she had been too afraid to open her eyes when she lay trapped beneath the rubble.
“When I finally managed to open my left eye slowly, there was a ray of light I could see in what I thought was complete darkness. That light gave me a relief and gave me a hope to live. That was the light from the computer I had been using,” said Konnai, speaking in hospital with slight scratches on her pale face.
Atalay, who visited the devastated Bayram Hotel with Turkey’s foreign minister, all but two of the 25 buildings that collapsed in Van had been empty.
The owner of the flattened five-storey hotel, Aslan Bayram, told broadcasters building experts had given his 47-year-old property the all-clear after last month’s quake. At the time of the quake, about 15 guests were believed to be in the hotel.
Many people were too frightened to return to homes with cracked walls and ceilings as multiple aftershocks continued to rattle the region.
“What am I going to do? I don’t have a tent, I don’t even know who to get a tent from. Nobody tells me. I cannot go back into my flat ... Where will I go tonight? It can happen again,” Halit Yazgan, 44, said as an aftershock shook a nearby building and sent men running for the middle of the road.
The latest quake struck 16 km (9 miles) south of Van at 1923 GMT on Wednesday, while the epicentre of the October 23 quake was just northeast of Van.
A tremor of 5.7 magnitude would not normally cause significant damage but thousands of buildings sustained damage in last month’s quake, and some were in a dangerous condition.
Atalay, responding to journalists’ questions over why one of the hotels had been given the all-clear, said only preliminary, rather than definitive assessments on structural damage had been carried out on the building.
Turkey is criss-crossed with seismic fault lines and experiences small tremors nearly every day. About 20,000 people were killed by two large earthquakes in western Turkey in 1999.
Writing by Daren Butler and Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Andrew Heavens