Aftershocks in Turkey

Quake toll: Disease, homelessness, depression, fears for the future must be tackled next.

August 24, 1999

THE BEST result from the earthquake a week ago in Turkey was Greece's response. This smaller neighbor and historic enemy responded immediately with physicians, supplies and rescue teams -- and that was just the government. Thousands of ordinary Greeks gave aid, money, whatever they could.

Much divides the countries, including seabed claims in the Aegean and Greek aid to Kurdish rebels. But if the two governments can build on this spontaneous goodwill, they can address such problems honestly. The goal should be an end to the Greek blackball of Turkey's application to the club of Europe, in particular the European Union, which poisons all Turkish-European relations.

Amid the casualties, individual stories of triumph abound. There was Ismail Cimen, age 3, removed dehydrated but alive and intact by Turkish and Bulgarian rescue workers after an incredible 146 hours of burial in Cinarcik.

Onur Umit, 14, was pulled out after 27 hours next to his dead grandfather in Golcuk, by desperate uncles digging by hand. And 11-year-old Elif, last name unknown, was chiseled out of wreckage in Cinarcik by Israelis using pen knives and chisels for 18 hours to avoid removing her leg.

But the bigger story was the opposite. Once the confirmed death toll headed toward 13,000, the Turkish government asked the United Nations to locate 45,000 body bags, and tents for half the 200,000 believed to be homeless.

With death by dehydration inevitable for the unrescued, the focus shifted to preventing disease, providing water and food and medicine and communications. Later will come the need for trauma therapy and economic rebirth.

In the longer term, the Turkish government must face popular contempt for suspected corruption in building code enforcement and for inefficiently coping with builders who flout codes. Recriminations, however understandable, do nothing constructive while the emergency is still on.

The hardest lesson is for a longer time frame. Experts believe the big one, greater than this 7.4 on the Richter scale, will come further west on the North Anatolian fault, nearer Istanbul, perhaps in 30 years, perhaps 50, if not sooner.

There is time to build more strongly for it. The will and persistence required may be something else. Such problems are understood in Japan and California, wealthier societies that also expect the big one, but don't know when and or how expensively to prepare.

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