ERCIS, Turkey (Reuters) - Rescue workers pulled a man from the rubble alive Thursday, more than four days after a huge quake killed at least 534 in Turkey, while homeless survivors fearing death from cold begged for aid and some accused the government of a slow response.
“Praise be to Allah!” cried the uncle of 18-year-old Imdat, whose name means “help” in Turkish, as hundreds of onlookers gave shouts of joy in the town of Ercis, the place worst hit by Sunday’s 7.2 magnitude quake in eastern Turkey.
A military rescue team from Azerbaijan rescued Imdat after burrowing deep into the rubble for more than two days.
Freed at last after more than 100 hours buried alive, Imdat was lifted onto a stretcher by medical workers who carried him through cheering crowds crying “Allahu Akbar!” to a waiting ambulance, which whisked him away to hospital.
The dramatic scene was a brief moment of joy after an earthquake that has devastated towns and villages and left thousands sleeping in the open, as the government struggles to deliver tents, food and other aid to distraught families.
Some survivors — who had stood in long queues only to be told there were no tents left — accused officials in the mostly Kurdish region of handing aid to supporters of the ruling AK party. Others said profiteers were hoarding tents and reselling them.
“Everyone is getting sick and wet. We have been waiting in line for four days like this and still nothing. It gets to our turn and they say they have run out,” said Fetih Zengin, 38, an estate agent whose house was badly damaged in Ercis, a town of 100,000.
“We slept under a piece of plastic erected on some wood boards we found. We have 10 children in our family, they are getting sick. Everyone needs a tent, snow is coming. It’s a disaster.”
Ergun Ozmen, 37, was carrying loaves of bread after queuing for food. “People are taking 10 tents and selling them. It’s a disgrace. I slept in the municipal park all night in the rain. My shoes are filled with water. I only registered to get a tent this morning as I have been busy burying the dead,” he said.
The death toll rose to 534, with 2,300 injured in the biggest quake in more than a decade in Turkey. The Disaster and Emergency Administration said 185 people had been rescued alive from collapsed buildings since the quake.
Searches for survivors went on at some sites but at others rescuers stopped work. The bodies of a mother and her baby were pulled out from one building during the night, witnesses said.
Answering Turkey’s call for help in the form of tents, prefabricated housing and containers, foreign aid began pouring in with the first planeloads landing from France, Ukraine — and Israel, despite poor relations between the two countries.
British Home Secretary Theresa May, who is visiting Turkey, said London would send 1,144 protective winter tents. Saudi television reported Saudi Arabia would give Turkey $50 million for quake relief.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs(OCHA) was providing 400 winterised tents, each able to hold five people.
An OCHA spokeswoman said Erzurum, a city 260 km (160 miles) northwest of Ercis, would be a hub for international assistance sent by plane. Van had been asked to establish a centre for assistance coming overland, she said.
After days of survivors lining up and sometimes arguing outside distribution centres, the government announced it would no longer hand out tents but would deliver them to those whose homes were deemed unsafe to make sure the neediest got them.
“We will no longer give a tent to whoever asks for one. We will identify the buildings that are unusable and we will deliver the tents ourselves,” Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdogan Bayraktar said, urging survivors to return to homes that were not structurally damaged.
“We will be distributing the tents in a more disciplined manner. We have 6,000 tents in hand and more are coming. Soon we will start the delivery of containers to villages.”
But Mehmet Yildiz, a 50-year-old shop owner who has a two-storey house in the city of Van, said he and his family of 10 were too afraid to go back to his house.
“My house is full of cracks. Whatever the government thinks I am not going inside the house. We are having our kids sleep in the car and the rest of us roam all night long in the streets. They say they won’t give me a tent because my house is not destroyed,” he told Reuters under an umbrella in the rain.
Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker said the government would distribute special tents to house cattle and sheep in mud-brick villages, which have suffered the worst damage and where 3,088 barns have been destroyed.
Exhausted relatives clung to the hope that loved ones would be found, keeping vigil at the site of their destroyed homes as the search for any sign of life went on.
Overnight, groups of shell-shocked people with no home to go to roamed aimlessly, huddling round fires as temperatures dropped to freezing. Others congregated in relief camps.
“After 15 days, half of the people here will die, freeze to death,” said Orhan Ogunc, a 37-year-old man in Guvencli, a village of some 200 homes deep in the hills between Ercis and the city of Van. His family had a Red Crescent tent, but were sharing it with five other families.
Few are ready to leave their land.
“They say we will get prefabricated houses in one-and-a-half months,” said Zeki Yatkin, 46, who lost his father in the quake. “We can’t tolerate the cold, but what else can we do?”
Bayraktar said 5,250 homes had been destroyed or badly damaged and 20,000 other households were “affected” in Van, Ercis and outlying villages.
A 5.4 magnitude quake hit the region Thursday morning but there were no immediate reports of further damage.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in a Kurdish separatist insurgency in the region that has lasted three decades. Last week militants killed 24 troops in neighboring Hakkari province.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government wants to build bridges with minority Kurds, so any accusations of neglect or ineptitude are politically sensitive.
The governor of Van province, Munir Karaloglu, who is a central government appointee, has rejected criticism of the relief efforts. He said the number of tents distributed would reach 28,000 by Thursday, adding that was far more than needed.
Deputy mayor Cahit Bozbay, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, gave a bleaker assessment and criticised the governor’s office for not working with officials.
“We are short of tents. It’s a major problem,” Bozbay said. “We lack supplies, but honestly the aid delivery organisation is also problematic.”
Additional reporting Humeyra Pamuk and Evrim Ergin in Van; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia, Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler; Editing by Tim Pearce