ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The death toll from floods and mudslides in northern Turkey rose to at least 38 on Friday, officials said, as emergency crews searched collapsed buildings, swamped homes, and submerged basements for more victims and survivors. An opposition politician said more than 300 people may be unaccounted for.
Torrential rains that pounded the Black Sea coastal provinces of Bartin, Kastamonu, Sinop and Samsun on Wednesday caused the flooding that demolished homes and bridges and swept away cars. More than 1,700 people were evacuated across the region, some lifted from rooftops by helicopters, and many were being temporarily housed in student dormitories.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Twitter late Friday that 32 people died in Kastamonu and six in Sinop.
In Kastamonu, a stream burst its banks and inundated the town of Bozkurt. Raging floodwaters demolished one waterfront building and severely damaged two neighboring buildings. A number of bodies washed up on the Black Sea shore, Halk TV reported, airing footage of people carrying a body bag on a beach in an unidentified province.
The floods struck on the heels of wildfires in southern Turkey that devastated forest lands in the seaside provinces of Mugla and Antalya that are popular with tourists. At least eight people died and thousands of residents were forced to flee.
Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme events, such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods and storms. Such calamities are expected to happen more frequently as the planet warms.
Hasan Baltaci, an opposition party lawmaker who represents Kastamonu, told Halk TV television that residents had contacted Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD, seeking information about 329 people feared missing. He cautioned that some of the names could be duplicates and that others could be of people who were unable to contact loved ones.
The missing include 12-year-old twin sisters and their grandparents who were trapped inside the eight-story building that collapsed in the town of Bozkurt. Emergency crews were seen sifting through the rubble searching for survivors.
The girls’ mother, Arzu Yucel, told the DHA news agency that she had left the apartment building after authorities advised residents to move their vehicles to higher ground. When she returned, water surrounded the building and prevented her from entering. From another building, she watched her daughters wave at her.
“We spoke by phone. They waved from the balcony. They said, ‘Don’t worry, mommy, we are fine,’” Yucel said. “They told us ‘Move your cars higher.’ They didn’t say ‘Save your lives, save your children.’ I could have gotten them out of there.”
Speaking in Bozkurt late Thursday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu described the scenes as “the most severe flood disaster I have seen.” On Wednesday, he said, flood waters reached three or four meters (10-13 feet) high in some areas.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who canceled celebrations marking his ruling party’s 20th anniversary, visited the area on Friday and promised to reconstruct demolished homes, roads and bridges.
“With God’s permission, we will overcome this disaster as well. We will do whatever it takes as a state…and hopefully, we will rise from our ashes,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish leader referred to the recent wildfires and floods that happened elsewhere.
“Like many parts of the world, our country has been struggling with natural disasters for a while. It’s the same in America, Canada, Germany and other parts of Europe,” Erdogan said. “Our hope is to escape these disasters with the least damage possible.”
Bozkurt resident Yilmaz Ersevenli told NTV that he left his house to move his car to a safe area as the floodwaters began to rise but soon got swept away. He said he managed to save himself by holding on to a tree that had also washed away.
“I nearly lost my life trying to save my car,” he said.
In Bartin province, at least 13 people were injured when a section of a bridge caved in. AFAD said 10 people are currently hospitalized.
In total, five bridges collapsed in the floods while two others were damaged, AFAD said. Dozens of villages are still without power and several roads remain blocked. Helicopters were still evacuating villagers Friday from areas where there was no access by road.
Erdogan said Thursday that at least 4,500 personnel, 19 helicopters and 24 boats were involved in the search and rescue operation.
Turkey’s Black Sea region is frequently struck by severe rains and flash flooding. At least six people were killed in floods that hit the eastern Black Sea coastal province of Rize last month.
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