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New earthquake rocks Turkey

BY SUSAN KIM | TURKEY | November 12, 1999

(Nov. 12, 1999) -- A strong earthquake that rocked western Turkey today found response organizations concerned about the safety of their staff and the new needs of survivors.

The temblor, which measured 7.2 on the Richter scale, struck Friday, causing hundreds of injuries, scores of deaths, and widespread damage, collapsing buildings, and setting off explosions.

Some U.S.-based response organizations anxiously awaited word from staff on the ground in Turkey in response to the Aug. 17 earthquake that killed some 17,000 people.

The latest quake occurred in a area hit by the August temblor.

Elizabeth Callender, a program officer for Washington, D.C.-based United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), was able to reach UMCOR's consultant in Turkey via digital phone.

The first way UMCOR communicates with field staff in the event of a repeat disaster is to pick up the phone, she said. "We call. That's the first thing we do."

Organizations who can't reach response staff by telephone often e-mail or communicate or via HAM radio through services such as the Salvation Army Emergency Radio Network (SATERN).

Callender echoed other response organizations when she said that the new earthquake will result in more information gathering from response consultants on the ground.

"We will be looking at how a new response strategy would fit into our ongoing response," she said.

Response to the second earthquake will likely be more rapid because supplies, relief teams, and local partnerships are already in place, said Jacob Kramer, a relief team member with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.

"In this case you have an advantaged because you have something already in the area," he said. "You have some channels and contacts."

But until more clear damage reports and needs assessments are made, Kramer said, response officials won't know exactly what new efforts or materials will be needed.

"We could be looking at a totally different picture again," he said.

If a response agency headquarters or facility has mobility -- most likely through response vehicles -- then response from the previous earthquake could be quickly transferred to newly hit areas.

But getting shipments into Turkey is still a challenge in terms of cost and government regulations -- and the new earthquake could make that even worse. "The continued difficulty is getting stuff in - that's what I would still call a very, very poor performance," he said.

The epicenter of the earthquake was near the town of Duzce, about 115 miles east of Istanbul. Although strong, the quake did not cause near as much damage as its August predecessor, partly because many buildings still haven't been rebuilt but also because the quake's force did not hit as populated an area as the last.

"The strength of the quake is a given, but where that strength is applied is another," said Kramer.

Response groups report that local partnerships already established in the wake of the August earthquake will prove beneficial in a second response. "You don't have to start by asking the questions 'who's there?' or 'what's the (response) capacity?' because you may already know these things," said Jonathon Frerichs, spokesperson for Baltimore-based Lutheran World Relief.

A myriad of denominations have been responding to needs in Turkey for the past several months through Action by Churches Together (ACT). Response organizations reported that new action in the wake of the latest earthquake will likely be funneled through the Churches of Turkey Steering Committee, an ecumenical response group based in Turkey that works closely with the Middle East Council of Churches, Armenian Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and European Conference of Churches.

The steering committee, which is partnering with ACT to guide U.S.-based and global response, has joined church groups who have never worked closely together.

Response leaders also maintained that monetary donations are the best way for people to help, particularly as new needs spark renewed or increased financial appeals.

Many organizations will continue to use monetary donations to purchase emergency relief supplies -- most of are available in Turkey even in the wake of the newest quake -- for survivors. Not only is shipping less expensive, but the purchases also strengthen the local economy.

When shipping relief supplies, Frerichs noted that organizations that have been shipping materials should check on their shipping channels to ensure there is still someone at the other end to receive the goods.

Some elements of response to the second earthquake are haunting mirror of the first -- relatives pulling injured family members from rubble, buildings collapsing into the streets, and explosions ripping through populated areas.

In the aftermath of an earthquake or other disaster, a significant amount of emergency response boils down to neighbor helping neighbor, he said. "People save each other's lives within the first 24-48 hours."

Friday's earthquake was the second in Turkey in two days and was followed by several aftershocks with magnitudes reported to be greater than five.

In the city of Duzce, so many people were injured that casualties had to be treated in makeshift medical centers set up on the streets, another grim repetition of the situation after the August quake.

Medical aid is being sent from Ankara, some 160 miles away.

In the nearby city of Bolu, the quake triggered fires and the road to Istanbul was cut off.

Posted Nov. 12, 1999


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