Some quake victims have blamed the ruling AK party for a slow response and accused officials of handing aid to supporters, after standing in long queues for tents only to be told that there were none left.
“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 that was hardest hit by Sunday’s 7.2 magnitude quake.
“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.”
The death toll rose to 481 and the number of injured was put at 1,650 in the biggest quake in more than a decade in Turkey.
Searches for survivors went on at some sites but at others rescuers stopped work. A mother and her baby were pulled out dead from one building during the night, witnesses said.
Many in the mainly Kurdish region complained of profiteers exploiting the distribution of food and tents.
“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,” said Ergun Ozmen, 37, carrying loaves of bread after queuing for food.
The Turkish Red Crescent, which had acted swiftly to provide refuge for Syrians fleeing the violence in their homeland this year, has been blamed by some for a lack of organisation.
Some Turks have criticised the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, which hopes to ease relations with the Kurdish minority that dominate the region. They suggest the party is prioritising aid for public servants in the region — a charged denied by local party officials.
Several countries have answered Turkey’s call for help to supply tents, prefabricated housing and containers, including Israel despite bad terms between the two governments since Israeli commandos killed nine Turks aboard a flotilla taking aid to Palestinians in Gaza last year.
Exhausted relatives clung to the hope that loved ones would be found, keeping vigil at the site of their destroyed homes as searches went on for any sign of life.
Overnight, groups of shell-shocked people roamed aimlessly, with no home to go to, huddling around fires as temperatures dropped to freezing. Others congregated in relief camps.
Cold rain in the past two days has added to woes, and for villagers in outlying areas there were fears of a second wave of death with the first expected winter snow next month.
“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, though they were sharing it with five other families.
Due to primitive housing in the quake-hit region, many villages were devastated. Although some families were staying out in the open few were ready to leave their land, preferring to bank on promises of temporary housing within about six weeks.
“They say we will get prefabricated houses in one-and-a-half months,” said Zeki Yatkin, a 46-year old man who had lost his father in the quake. “We can’t tolerate the cold, but what else could we do?”
Search operations ended in the city of Van. Provincial governor Munir Karaloglu said only six buildings had collapsed in the city, whereas many more were destroyed in Ercis.
The disaster could be a chance for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government to show the Kurds how much it cares for their people, so any accusations of neglect or ineptitude are politically sensitive.
Having won a third consecutive term in a national election last June, Erdogan aims to replace the constitution with one that will boost democratic values by, among other things, addressing some of the Kurdish minority’s grievances.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in a separatist insurgency that has lasted three decades, and last week militants killed 24 troops in neighbouring Hakkari province.
The United States and the European Union, as well as Turkey, consider the PKK separatist guerrilla group to be a terrorist organisation.
At one warehouse in Van, about 100 people looted Red Crescent trucks carrying food, blankets, carpets and clothes while a handful of police appeared powerless to stop them.
“The real looter is the AK Party. The aid received in Van is handed to the families of public servants and policemen. Ordinary people don’t get anything,” one old man told Reuters.
Governor Karaloglu said, however, that as of Wednesday 20,000 tents had been handed out. According to him that was far more than was really needed.
A central government appointee, the governor said things would be better if people in the city of one million were not gripped by fear that an aftershock could topple their homes, even they were undamaged by the quake.
“Because of this psychology, and the aftershocks, they don’t use their undamaged house and ask for tent,” said Karaloglu. “This is why we have a problem.”
He said 600,000 people were affected by the quake, but that did not mean all of them needed temporary accommodation.
Deputy mayor Cahit Bozbay, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), gave a far bleaker assessment and criticised the governor’s office for not working with officials.
He said half of the buildings in Van had been damaged in the quake, giving frightened people no choice but to sleep outside.
“We are short of tents. It’s a major problem. We lack supplies, but honestly the aid delivery organisation is also problematic,” said Bozbay. Reuters