A deadly 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey Sunday, leaving hundreds dead and another estimated 1,300 injured. According to the prime minister’s office in Ankara, the quake has also destroyed some 970 buildings. It is the most powerful earthquake to hit Turkey in over a decade, as powerful as the quake that hit Haiti in January 2010.
Initial assessments find the hardest-hit area was Ercis, an eastern city of 75,000 close to the Iranian border, which lies on one of Turkey's most earthquake-prone zones, the Associated Press reported. The provincial capital, Van, about 55 miles to the south, also sustained substantial damage. More than 100 aftershocks were recorded within 10 hours of the quake, including one with a magnitude of 6.0.
Slow to Seek Assistance from Israel, Other Nations
Monday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was able to cope for the time being, but the AP reports a foreign ministry official with the Turkish government now says it will accept foreign assistance to deal with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, including from Israel. Earlier in the week officials declined aid offers from its former ally. Relations between Israel and Turkey have been strained since Israeli soldiers raided a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010.
Thousands of Turks are sleeping in tents seeking shelter from bitterly cold temperatures, but some victims argue aid hasn’t been received in a timely manner. Officials say the Israeli government will ship portable structures to be used as temporary housing for survivors who lost their homes in the quake.
Former Israeli ambassadors to Turkey, however, warn it is not the time to take advantage of a natural disaster for diplomatic gain. Alon Liel, former Director General of the Foreign Ministry and former Charge D'affairs in Turkey in the 1980s, told Ynet News he has been swamped with request from companies wanting to provide assistance.
"I've even been asked if the Turks would mind if there are stars of David on the buildings," Liel said. "My suggestion is to show restraint – we're doing this for the Van province, not with one eye on Ankara. Even if we help and transfer hundreds of homes that leave an 'impact' we need to let the Turkish public judge our actions. We shouldn't go to the Turkish regime the next morning with an attempt to cash in diplomatically."
More than 50 other nations have also offered aid.
Search and Rescue Efforts Continue
Rescue workers are risking their lives digging through the rubble in hopes of locating survivors. With many structures destroyed, damaged or considered unsafe, many survivors are sleeping in tents, while temperatures fall into the 30s at night. Rain is also expected during the week making search efforts even more difficult.
The Baptist Global Response disaster network has mobilized teams to respond to the earthquake, said Patrick J. Melancon, BGR's managing director of disaster response and training. A five-member assessment team is on the ground now.
"Teams are within hours of arriving in the area with tarps and other supplies to assist survivors," Melancon said. "The teams are a part of the network of responders trained by Baptist Global Response to provide both rapid response and longer-term assessments during a crisis like this one. These teams provide local response capability wherever the teams may reside."
Damage in areas outlying the quake's epicenter also is a concern and is being assessed as well, Melancon said. Estimates of loss of life are still pending as rescue teams attempt to find survivors in the rubble.
The quake’s epicenter hit just below the village of Tabanli, in the eastern city of Van. Turkish Red Crescent responders are working to assist survivors and reach people trapped in the rubble. Red Crescent works are focused on search and rescue efforts, but are also helping to support the immediate needs of those left homeless by the quake.
More than 6,000 tents and 11,000 blankets and stoves have been distributed, as well as food and clean drinking water. The organization has established disaster management centers in the mountainous and isolated region. Witnesses say local citizens used their bare hands and torchlight to shift the rubble in a desperate attempt to reach survivors overnight.
Missionaries with Christian Missions in Many Lands say while Christians in the area are safe, their homes and buildings were damaged. The ministry reports two groups of believers work closely together in the city of Van — a group of Turkish believers and a group of Iranian refugee believers.
“These believers are living outside at the moment,” said Jerry Mattix of the Missionary Prayer Handbook Day 28. Mattix, who works in Turkey, also said, “The immediate need is the provision of tents and blankets.”
Call for Prayer
With at least 459 people who were killed by the earthquake, Christian missionaries are calling for prayer.
Ian and Mary Jane Heringa of ASLAN International have served in the Middle East for more than 20 years. In an email update, the Heringas say the Van province hardest hit by the earthquake is one of Turkey’s poorest regions. The couple recalls that after the massive earthquake that struck Turkey in 1999, thousands of Turks called the organization's Alo Dua prayer hotlines requesting prayer.
“Please join us in praying for the government’s rescue efforts, for more rescue vehicles and paramedics, doctors to get to Van quickly,” the Heringas plead. “Pray for the weather — meteorologists are predicting snow, for those still trapped in the rubble that they may be found quickly, for the families of those who are missing. In their despair, may they turn to Jesus.”
Twenty-two hours from Van, ASLAN is a ministry based in Istanbul. Team members of the ministry will distribute blankets, food and other supplies to Van's earthquake victims.
"Now is not the time for Islamaphobia," said a spokesperson for ASLAN International. "Now is the time for Islam agape [love]. It is time to bring healing. The people have no hope. They see no future ahead of them. We will share our hope with them together. And they can begin again.”
Russ Jones is a 20-year award winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites, such as ChristianPress.com, and a media consultant. He is also a freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network, Crosswalk.com and various Christian TV networks. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ enjoys keeping his mind engaged in the academic arena teaching subjects like Introduction to World Religions, Intro to Mass Communication, Ethics, Death and Dying and Biblical Literature. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: October 26, 2011