Sat, Nov 04, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Flash flood death toll in Turkey continues to rise

HELPING HANDS In the badly affected province of Batman, military personnel aboard rubber dinghies rescued dozens of people stranded in their homes


The death toll from flash floods sweeping through impoverished southeast Turkey has risen to 33 on news that 11 people, including seven children, have died in the town of Batman, officials said on Thursday. Experts blamed the rising death toll on poor construction and faulty urbanization.

The floods were the worst to hit the mainly Kurdish region since 1937, said Hasan Tanriseven, a senior official, and more heavy rain is predicted for Turkey in the coming days.

The floodwaters hit Batman on Wednesday evening, officials said, when rivers swollen by torrential rains swamped streets and toppled buildings, killing 11 people and triggering a major rescue operation.

Governor Haluk Imga said the damage to the province of Batman was 12 million lira (US$8.17 million).

"We will continue to give food as long as we can. We won't let down any of our citizens," he told a news conference.

Government aid agencies had already provided food for 6,000 people in Batman.

Troops joined rescue services in helping to evacuate homes. Local authorities opened municipal buildings such as sports centers to house families fleeing the disaster.

In Batman, military units aboard dinghies rescued dozens of people stranded in their homes as at least five neighborhoods, mainly near the Iluh river, were completely flooded.

Hundreds of people who lost their homes sought shelter with relatives or in the city's sports arena.

"By the time I went out to see what was happening, the waters were neck-high," Batman resident Ozcan Arslan told NTV television as he told of the disaster that struck overnight.

"We were at home when the waters burst the door open," another resident, Murat Aslan, said. "I grabbed the children and climbed to the roof."

At least seven people were treated for injuries in hospital.

Diyarbakir, the biggest city in the region, was hit by floods on Tuesday night, the water rising with dramatic speed and no warning, taking thousands of residents by surprise.

"I suddenly found myself surrounded by water while sitting at home. My children and I climbed onto the roof to save ourselves," said Emine Gungoren, a 40-year-old housewife.

"We saw an artificial lake appear in just 15 minutes. Suddenly water and mud filled our homes," said Hasan Atmaca, a shop owner in Diyarbakir's Cinar district.

People were being evacuated from their homes by boat or trying to clear up the mess as the waters receded. Two people were still missing in the city.

Local authorities also ordered evacuation of a 6,800-people town in Sanliurfa province on the Syrian border.

People were asked to leave the town due to flood alarm as waters flowing from highlands approach, officials said.

A group of people protested at government offices in Cinar district, throwing stones and breaking windows, but later dispersed after calls for restraint.

The newspaper Milliyet attributed the high death toll in the southeast to shoddy construction and creaking infrastructure.

"Neglect, not fate," its headline read above a picture of flooded streets.

Roads linking Batman to Diyarbakir and other towns were closed to traffic.

Turkey's largest city Istanbul, some 1,300km northwest of Diyarbakir, and the Mediterranean cities of Antalya and Mersin have also suffered flooding in recent days.

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